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Evolution. 2009 Sep;63(9):2457-65. doi: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2009.00733.x. Epub 2009 Jun 26.

Live-birth in vipers (Viperidae) is a key innovation and adaptation to global cooling during the Cenozoic.

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Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut 06511, USA.


The identification of adaptations and key innovations has long interested biologists because they confer on organisms the ability to exploit previously unavailable ecological resources and respond to novel selective pressures. Although it can be extremely difficult to test for the effects of a character on the rate of lineage diversification, the convergent evolution of a character in multiple lineages provides an excellent opportunity to test for the effect of that character on lineage diversification. Here, I examine the effect of parity mode on the diversification of vipers, which have independently evolved viviparity in at least 13 lineages. I find strong statistical evidence that viviparous species diversify at a greater rate than oviparous species and correlate major decreases in the diversification rate of oviparous species with periods of global cooling, such as the Oligocene. These results suggest that the evolution of viviparity buffered live-bearing species against the negative effects of global climate change during the Cenozoic, and was a key innovation in the evolution and diversification of live-bearing vipers.

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