Patterns of morphological variation and ecological correlates in the skull of vipers (Serpentes: Viperidae)
The skull of vipers is a highly kinetic anatomical structure involved in envenomating and consuming of prey. Morphological knowledge about the viperid skull is based on studies on some groups of species, but information on its variation within the whole family and its functional morphology is still scarce. In this study, we aimed to explore variation in skull morphology among species of the three subfamilies of Viperidae, and test whether that variation correlates with macrohabitat and diet. We performed quantitative analyses of the viperid skull based on broad taxonomic sampling and two methodological approaches: linear and geometric morphometrics. The results of both approaches showed that much of the variation lies in differences of shape and relative size of the premaxilla, the nasals, the frontals, and the parietals. The results indicated that phylogeny and size influence the shape of the skull, but we also found evidence of morphological differentiation between arboreal and terrestrial species and in species with mammal specialist diet. Our findings imply that, besides evolutionary allometry and phylogenetic signal, demands of particular diets coupled with use of certain habitats have in part shaped morphological evolution of the viperid skull.