Substrate thermal properties influence ventral brightness evolution in ectotherms

Jonathan Goldenberg, Liliana D’Alba, Karen Bisschop, Bram Vanthournout, Matthew D. Shawkey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The thermal environment can affect the evolution of morpho-behavioral adaptations of ectotherms. Heat is transferred from substrates to organisms by conduction and reflected radiation. Because brightness influences the degree of heat absorption, substrates could affect the evolution of integumentary optical properties. Here, we show that vipers (Squamata:Viperidae) inhabiting hot, highly radiative and superficially conductive substrates have evolved bright ventra for efficient heat transfer. We analyzed the brightness of 4161 publicly available images from 126 species, and we found that substrate type, alongside latitude and body mass, strongly influences ventral brightness. Substrate type also significantly affects dorsal brightness, but this is associated with different selective forces: activity-pattern and altitude. Ancestral estimation analysis suggests that the ancestral ventral condition was likely moderately bright and, following divergence events, some species convergently increased their brightness. Vipers diversified during the Miocene and the enhancement of ventral brightness may have facilitated the exploitation of arid grounds. We provide evidence that integument brightness can impact the behavioral ecology of ectotherms.

Original languageEnglish
Article number26 (2021)
Number of pages10
JournalCommunications Biology
Publication statusPublished - 2021 Dec
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are grateful to the Tel Aviv University’s Garden for Zoological Research for providing access to their reptile collection; especially to Shai Meiri, Ron Michlin, and Yossi Yovel for arranging the visit and Barak Levi for the great support during animal handling. We are thankful to Lionel Hertzog, Rafael Maia, and Joshua W. Lambert for the statistical support and to EON and TEREC groups for the multiple constructive discussions. We thank Florian Van Hecke and Bram De Vilder for the repeatability analysis. J.G. was funded by the Special Research Fund of Ghent University (BOF). K.B. was funded through a VICI grant (VICI grant no. 865.13.00) and the Special Research Fund (BOF) of Ghent University. This work was supported by the Research Foundation-Flanders (FWO) grant GOG2217N.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).


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