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Associations of variable coloration with niche breadth and conservation status among australian reptiles

Forsman, Anders, Åberg, Viktor
Ecology 2008 v.89 no.5 pp. 1201-1207
color, conservation status, environmental impact, evolution, genes, habitats, lizards, prediction, snakes
We evaluate predictions concerning the evolutionary and ecological consequences of color polymorphisms. Previous endeavors have aimed at identifying conditions that promote the evolution and maintenance within populations of alternative variants. But the polymorphic condition may also influence important population processes. We consider the prediction that populations that consist of alternative “ecomorphs” with coadapted gene complexes will utilize more diverse resources and display higher rates of colonization success, population persistence, and range expansions, while being less vulnerable to range contractions and extinctions, compared with monomorphic populations. We perform pairwise comparative analyses based on information for 323 species of Australian lizards and snakes. We find that species with variable color patterns have larger ranges, utilize a greater diversity of habitat types, and are underrepresented among species currently listed as threatened. These results are consistent with the proposition that the co‐occurrence of multiple color variants may promote the ecological success of populations and species, but there are also alternative interpretations.