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Am Nat. 2005 Jan;165(1):56-69. Epub 2004 Nov 12.

Evolution of dietary specialization and chemical defense in poison frogs (Dendrobatidae): a comparative analysis.

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Section of Integrative Biology, Texas Memorial Museum, University of Texas, Austin, Texas 78712, USA.


Defensive mechanisms, including noxious or toxic substances, are favored by predation-driven natural selection. The acquisition of noxious/toxic substances can be either endogenous, in which the substances are produced by the organism, or exogenous, in which the substances are produced by another organism and are sequestered. Evidence indicates that the defensive skin alkaloids of Neotropical poison frogs (Dendrobatidae) have an exogenous source: a diet of ants and other small alkaloid-containing arthropods, which we term the diet-toxicity hypothesis. A critical prediction of the diet-toxicity hypothesis is that independent origins of dietary specialization will be found to be correlated with independent origins of skin alkaloids. We tested this prediction in an integrated framework using comparative methods with new and published data on feeding ecology and chemical defense for 15 species of dendrobatids in five genera. We found a significant correlation between alkaloid profiles and degree of dietary specialization. This reveals a recurring association of dietary specialization and alkaloid sequestration in dendrobatids, which suggests parallel evolutionary trends in the origins of defensive mechanisms.

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