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Recent models suggest that escalating reciprocal selection among antagonistically interacting species is predicted to occur in areas of higher resource productivity. In a putatively coevolved interaction between a freshwater snail (Mexipyrgus churinceanus) and a molluscivorous cichlid (Herichthys minckleyi ), we examined three components of this interaction: 1) spatial variation in two putative defensive traits, crushing resistance and shell pigmentation; 2) whether abiotic variables or frequency of molariform cichlids are associated with spatial patterns of crushing resistance and shell pigmentation and 3) whether variation in primary productivity accounted forsmall-scale variation in these defensive traits.

Results: Using spatial autocorrelation to account for genetic and geographic divergence amongp opulations, we found no autocorrelation among populations at small geographic and genetic distances for the two defensive traits. There was also no correlation between abiotic variables (temperature and conductivity) and snail defensive traits. However, crushing resistance and frequency of pigmented shells were negatively correlated with molariform frequency. Crushing resistance and levels of pigmentation were significantly higher in habitats dominated by aquatic macrophytes, and both traits are phenotypically correlated.

Conclusion: Crushing resistance and pigmentation of M. churinceanus exhibit striking variation at small spatial scales often associated with differences in primary productivity, substrate coloration small spatial scales often associated with differences in primary productivity, substrate coloration

and the frequency of molariform cichlids. These local geographic differences may result from among-habitat variation in how resource productivity interacts to promote escalation in prey defenses.


Johnson, S. G., C. Darrin Hulsey, Francisco J. Garcia de Lion. 2007. Spatial mosaic evolution of snail defensive traits. BMC Evolutionary Biology 7.50 (open access in pubmed central)