Title

Palatal morphology predicts the paleobiology of early salamanders

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date

5-16-2022

Journal

eLife

Volume

11

DOI

10.7554/eLife.76864

Keywords

evolutionary biology; life history; metamorphosis; palate; paleoecology; salamander

Abstract

Ecological preferences and life history strategies have enormous impacts on the evolution and phenotypic diversity of salamanders, but the yet established reliable ecological indicators from bony skeletons hinder investigations into the paleobiology of early salamanders. Here, we statistically demonstrate by using time-calibrated cladograms and geometric morphometric analysis on 71 specimens in 36 species, that both the shape of the palate and many non-shape covariates particularly associated with vomerine teeth are ecologically informative in early stem- and basal crown-group salamanders. Disparity patterns within the morphospace of the palate in ecological preferences, life history strategies, and taxonomic affiliations were analyzed in detail, and evolutionary rates and ancestral states of the palate were reconstructed. Our results show that the palate is heavily impacted by convergence constrained by feeding mechanisms and also exhibits clear stepwise evolutionary patterns with alternative phenotypic configurations to cope with similar functional demand. Salamanders are diversified ecologically before the Middle Jurassic and achieved all their present ecological preferences in the Early Cretaceous. Our results reveal that the last common ancestor of all salamanders share with other modern amphibians a unified biphasic ecological preference, and metamorphosis is significant in the expansion of ecomorphospace of the palate in early salamanders.

Department

Microbiology, Immunology, and Tropical Medicine

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