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Tetrodotoxin Resistance in Garter Snakes: An Evolutionary Response of Predators to Dangerous Prey

Edmund D. Brodie III and Edmund D. Brodie, Jr.
Evolution
Vol. 44, No. 3 (May, 1990), pp. 651-659
DOI: 10.2307/2409442
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2409442
Page Count: 9
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Tetrodotoxin Resistance in Garter Snakes: An Evolutionary Response of Predators to Dangerous Prey
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Abstract

The use of the "arms race" analogy as a conceptualization of evolutionary predatorprey interactions has been criticized because of the lack of evidence that predators can and do adapt to increased antipredator ability of prey. We present evidence that the garter snake Thamnophis sirtalis has evolved resistance to tetrodotoxin (TTX) in response to the toxicity of the newt Taricha granulosa on which the snake feeds. A bioassay (locomotor performance before and after injection of TTX) was used to obtain repeated measures of resistance for individual snakes. We studied interpopulation and interspecific variation by comparing resistance in Thamnophis sirtalis from populations occurring sympatrically and allopatrically with Taricha granulosa, and in Thamnophis ordinoides (which does not feed on the newt) occurring sympatrically with Taricha granulosa. We also examined intrapopulation variation in TTX resistance using snakes from a population known to feed on Taricha granulosa. Resistance differed significantly among individuals and litters; repeatability and heritability estimates of the assay were significantly different from zero, demonstrating the potential for response to selection. The population of Thamnophis sirtalis that occurs with Taricha granulosa exhibited levels of resistance much greater than either of the other groups. These results suggest that the predator-prey arms race analogy may be applicable to this system.

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