Monday 29 June 2020

New study reveals how metamorphosis has shaped the evolution of salamanders

JUNE 23, 2020
A team of scientists, led by Natural History Museum postdoctoral researcher Dr. Anne-Claire Fabre, have conducted the first study on how metamorphosis has influenced the evolution of salamanders.
Using micro-CT scanning to study the skulls of this group of animals, the team were able to build a huge dataset of 148 species of salamanders and used cutting-edge methods to describe the shape of the skull with nearly 1000 reference points, known as landmarks.
Dr. Fabre said, "Most studies of this kind are limited to just a few dozen landmarks. Our study is the first large-scale investigation of this incredibly diverse group. We have captured the shape of the skull in such great detail that it has allowed us to learn more than ever before about how these creatures evolved."
The results showed that the ancestor of all salamanders was metamorphic but that different life cycles have evolved at least 11 times across the group. Even more interesting, when different life cycles evolve, salamanders show a burst of rapid evolution, showing that shifts in life cycle promoted the evolution of new forms and increased their diversity.
Prof. Anjali Goswami, a research leader at the Natural History Museum, who is the senior author of the study, said, "We can see that metamorphosis has profoundly influenced salamander evolution, allowing for more independent evolution of the parts of the skull related to feeding and ultimately resulting in a greater diversity of skull shapes. This means that metamorphosis, and repeated changes from metamorphosis to other life cycles like live birth or losing the larval or adult stage entirely, have been key drivers of the diversity of salamanders over the past 180 million years."


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