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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2001 Jul 3;98(14):7888-91. Epub 2001 Jun 26.

Extreme morphological and ecological homoplasy in tropical salamanders.

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Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-3160, USA.


Fossorial salamanders typically have elongate and attenuated heads and bodies, diminutive limbs, hands and feet, and extremely elongate tails. Batrachoseps from California, Lineatriton from eastern México, and Oedipina from southern México to Ecuador, all members of the family Plethodontidae, tribe Bolitoglossini, resemble one another in external morphology, which has evolved independently. Whereas Oedipina and Batrachoseps are elongate because there are more trunk vertebrae, a widespread homoplasy (parallelism) in salamanders, the genus Lineatriton is unique in having evolved convergently by an alternate "giraffe-neck" developmental program. Lineatriton has the same number of trunk vertebrae as related, nonelongated taxa, but individual trunk vertebrae are elongated. A robust phylogenetic hypothesis, based on sequences of three mtDNA genes, finds Lineatriton to be deeply nested within a clade characterized by generalized ecology and morphology. Lineatriton lineolus, the only currently recognized taxon in the genus, shows unanticipated genetic diversity. Surprisingly, geographically separated populations of L. lineolus are not monophyletic, but are sister taxa of different species of the morphologically generalized genus Pseudoeurycea. Lineatriton, long thought to be a unique monospecific lineage, is polyphyletic. Accordingly, the specialized morphology of Lineatriton displays homoplasy at two hierarchical levels: (i) with respect to other elongate lineages in the family (convergence), and (ii) within what is currently recognized as a single taxon (parallelism). These evolutionary events are of adaptive significance because to invade the lowland tropics salamanders must be either arboreal or fossorial; the repeated evolution of elongation and attenuation has led to multiple lowland invasions.

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