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Color Pattern Polymorphism in the Lake Erie Water Snake, Nerodia sipedon insularum
Richard B. King
Vol. 41, No. 2 (Mar., 1987), pp. 241-255
Published by: Society for the Study of Evolution
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2409135
Page Count: 15
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Populations of the water snake, Nerodia sipedon, on islands in western Lake Erie are polymorphic for color pattern. These populations include banded, intermediate, and unbanded morphs while surrounding mainland populations consist solely of the banded morph. The hypothesis that this polymorphism is maintained by strong selection and migration pressures is widely accepted. Unbanded morphs are apparently more cryptic along island shorelines while banded morphs are more cryptic on the mainland. Migration of banded morphs from the mamland explains their persistence in island populations. Data collected in a capture-mark-recapture program on six islands provide no evidence of differential selection among morphs; morph frequencies do not differ among age classes, between once-captured and multiply-captured snakes, or between scarred and unscarred snakes. Furthermore, herring gulls, the most common snake predators in the island area, appear to detect banded and unbanded model snakes with equal ease. High site fidelity of water snakes and the distribution of morphs among islands suggest that migration from the mainland is not common. However, islands close to each other are similar in morph frequency, and water snakes have colonized islands elsewhere in the Great Lakes, indicating that some migration does occur. Recently, the frequency of banded morphs has increased in island populations while adult population sizes have declined. This increase in banded morphs is interpreted as reflecting an increased impact of migration from the mainland into these reduced populations. One scenario for the evolution and maintenance of this polymorphism is that selection was important in establishing unbanded morphs in island populations as they became isolated from the mainland. As populations declined to their present size, the impact of migration from the mainland increased and is now swamping the effect of selection. Further declines in island population size may result in fixation of the banded morph.
Evolution © 1987 Society for the Study of Evolution