Coevolutionary interactions typically involve only a few specialized taxa. The factors that cause some taxa and not others to respond evolutionarily to selection by another species are poorly understood. Preadaptation may render some species predisposed for evolutionary response to new pressures, whereas a lack of genetic variation may limit the evolutionary potential of other taxa. We evaluate these factors in the predator-prey interaction between toxic newts (Taricha granulosa) and their resistant garter snake predators (Thamnophis sirtalis). Using a bioassay of resistance to tetrodotoxin (TTX), the primary toxin in the prey, we examined phenotypic evolution in the genus Thamnophis. Reconstruction of ancestral character states suggests that the entire genus Thamnophis, and possibly natricine snakes in general, has slightly elevated TTX resistance compared to other lineages of snakes. While this suggests that T. sirtalis is indeed predisposed to evolving TTX resistance, it also indicates that the potential exists in sympatric congeners not expressing elevated levels of TTX resistance. We also detected significant family level variation for TTX resistance in a species of Thamnophis that does not exhibit elaborated levels of the trait. This finding suggests that evolutionary response in other taxa is not limited by genetic variability. In this predator-prey system, species and population differences in resistance appear to be largely determined by variation in the selective environment rather than preadaptation or constraint.
Keywords: Coevolution; garter snake; preadaptation; predator-prey; resistance; tetrodotoxin.
© 1999 The Society for the Study of Evolution.