Ecological contributions to body shape evolution in salamanders of the genus Eurycea (Plethodontidae)

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Background Body shape can be both a consequence and cause of a species’ evolution and ecology. There are many examples of phenotypes associated with specific ecological niches, likely as a result of specific selective regimes. A classic example of this is the phenotypic change associated with colonization of caves, including body and limb elongation. However, studies explicitly testing for differences in body shape between cave-dwelling and non-cave-dwelling lineages have been limited and so the role of the cave environment in determining morphological characteristics is still not completely understood. Here we examine variation in body shape among 405 individuals representing 20 species in the salamander genus Eurycea (Plethodontidae) and select outgroups exhibiting great diversity in morphology, ecological niche, and life history. Results After analyzing morphometric data in a phylogenetic context using phylogenetic MANOVA and examination of the phylomorphospace, we found significant differences in body shape among cave-dwelling and non-cave-dwelling species and between aquatic and terrestrial species. Notably, limb elongation and reduced body and tail size characterized cave-dwelling species. Terrestrial species also exhibited elongation of the limbs and digits. We also observed differences in shape variance among paedomorphic and biphasic species. Our results suggest that the functional limitations imposed by habitat and life history played a key role in the evolution of body shape in this group in the context of their phylogenetic history.




Edgington, H. A., & Taylor, D. R. (2019). Ecological contributions to body shape evolution in salamanders of the genus Eurycea (Plethodontidae). PLoS ONE, 14(5).

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