With more than 250 species, the Mantellidae is the most species-rich family of frogs in Madagascar. These frogs are highly diversified in morphology, ecology and natural history. Based on a molecular phylogeny of 248 mantellids, we here examine the distribution of three characters reflecting the diversity of eye colouration and two characters of head colouration along the mantellid tree, and their correlation with the general ecology and habitat use of these frogs. We use Bayesian stochastic character mapping, character association tests and concentrated changes tests of correlated evolution of these variables. We confirm previously formulated hypotheses of eye colour pattern being significantly correlated with ecology and habits, with three main character associations: many tree frogs of the genus Boophis have a bright coloured iris, often with annular elements and a blue-coloured iris periphery (sclera); terrestrial leaf-litter dwellers have an iris horizontally divided into an upper light and lower dark part; and diurnal, terrestrial and aposematic Mantella frogs have a uniformly black iris. Furthermore, the presence of a frenal streak and a dark tympanic patch were associated with each other, with horizontally divided iris colour, and with terrestrial habits. Our study is restricted to the mantellid radiation, and the performed tests detect the simultaneous distribution of independent character states in a tree, rather than providing a measure for phylogenetic independent correlation of these character states. The concentrated changes tests suggest that the evolutionary origin of a bright iris might indeed be correlated to arboreal habits. Yet, rather than testing hypotheses of adaptive evolution of eye colour in anurans, our study serves to formulate hypotheses of convergence more precisely and thus to open perspectives for their further testing in a comparative framework along the anuran tree of life. For instance, a brightly coloured iris and sclera might serve mate recognition or as aposematic defensive strategy especially in tree frogs, and a horizontally divided iris colour might constitute a disruptive defensive strategy in frogs inhabiting the leaf litter stratum.
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