Salinity influences the distribution of marine snakes

implications for evolutionary transitions to marine life

François Brischoux*, Reid Tingley, Richard Shine, Harvey B. Lillywhite

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

46 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Secondary transitions from terrestrial to marine life provide remarkable examples of evolutionary change. Although the maintenance of osmotic balance poses a major challenge to secondarily marine vertebrates, its potential role during evolutionary transitions has not been assessed. In the current study, we investigate the role of oceanic salinity as a proximate physiological challenge for snakes during the phylogenetic transition from the land to the sea. Large-scale biogeographical analyses using the four extant lineages of marine snakes suggest that salinity constrains their current distribution, especially in groups thought to resemble early transitional forms between the land and the sea. Analyses at the species-level suggest that a more efficient salt-secreting gland allows a species to exploit more saline, and hence larger, oceanic areas. Salinity also emerged as the strongest predictor of sea snake richness. Snake species richness was negatively correlated with mean annual salinity, but positively correlated with monthly variation in salinity. We infer that all four independent transitions from terrestrial to marine life in snakes may have occurred in the Indonesian Basin, where salinity is low and seasonally variable. More generally, osmoregulatory challenges may have influenced the evolutionary history and ecological traits of other secondarily marine vertebrates (turtles, birds and mammals) and may affect the impact of climate change on marine vertebrates.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)994-1003
Number of pages10
JournalEcography
Volume35
Issue number11
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2012
Externally publishedYes

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Salinity influences the distribution of marine snakes: implications for evolutionary transitions to marine life'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this