Intraspecific phenotype diversity allows for local adaption and the ability for species to respond to changing environmental conditions, enhancing survivability. Phenotypic variation could be stochastic, genetically based, and/or the result of different environmental conditions. Mojave Rattlesnakes, Crotalus scutulatus, are known to have high intraspecific venom variation, but the geographic extent of the variation and factors influencing venom evolution are poorly understood. Three primary venom types have been described in this species based on the presence (Type A) or absence (Type B) of a neurotoxic phospholipase A2 called Mojave toxin and an inverse relationship with the presence of snake venom metalloproteinases (SVMPs). Individuals that contain both Mojave toxin and SVMPs, although rare, are the third, and designated Type A + B. I sought to describe the proteomic and transcriptomic venom diversity of C. scutulatus across its range and test whether diversity was correlated with genetic or environmental differences. This study includes the highest geographic sampling of Mojave Rattlesnakes and includes the most venom-gland transcriptomes known for one species. Of the four mitochondrial lineages known, only one was monophyletic for venom type. Environmental variables poorly correlated with the phenotypes. Variability in toxin and toxin family composition of venom transcriptomes was largely due to differences in transcript expression. Four of 19 toxin families identified in C. scutulatus account for the majority of differences in toxin number and expression variation. I was able to determine that the toxins primarily responsible for venom types are inherited in a Mendelian fashion and that toxin expression is additive when comparing heterozygotes and homozygotes. Using the genetics to define venom type is more informative and the Type A + B phenotype is not unique, but rather heterozygous for the PLA2 and/or SVMP alleles. Intraspecific venom variation in C. scutulatus highlights the need for fine scale ecological and natural history information to understand how phenotypic diversity is generated and maintained geographically through time.
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Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
College of Sciences
Conservation Biology; Integrative Biology
Length of Campus-only Access
Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)
Strickland, Jason, "Evolution and Distribution of Phenotypic Diversity in the Venom of Mojave Rattlesnakes (Crotalus scutulatus)" (2018). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 6054.