To investigate the role of ecological and historical factors in the organization of communities, we describe the ecomorphological structure of an assemblage of snakes (61 species in six families) in the Cerrado (a savanna-like grassland) of Distrito Federal, Brazil. These snakes vary in habits, with some being fossorial, cryptozoic, terrestrial, semi-aquatic, or arboreal. Periods of activity also vary. A multivariate analysis identified distinct morphological groups associated with patterns of resource use. We report higher niche diversification compared to snakes in the Caatinga (a semi-arid region in northeastern Brazil), with fossorial and cryptozoic species occupying morphological space that is not occupied in the Caatinga. Monte Carlo permutations from canonical phylogenetic ordination revealed a significant phylogenetic effect on morphology for Colubridae, Colubrinae, Viperidae, Elapidae, and Boidae indicating that morphological divergence occurred in the distant past. We conclude that phylogeny is the most important factor determining structure of this Neotropical assemblage. Nevertheless, our results also suggest a strong ecological component characterizes a peculiar snake fauna.
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Vol. 2008 • No. 1