Intraspecific heterochrony and life history evolution : Decoupling somatic and sexual development in a facultatively paedomorphic salamander

  • Ryan T
  • Semlitsch R
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Morphological features such as size and shape are the most common focus in studies of heterochronic change. Frequently, these easily observed and measured fea- tures are treated as a major target of selection, potentially ignoring traits more closely related to fitness. We question the primacy of morphological data in studies of heterochrony, and instead suggest that principal sources of fitness, such as life history characteristics, are not only the chief targets of selection, but changes in them may necessitate changes in other (subordinate) elements of the organism. We use an experimental approach to investigate the timing of metamor- phosis and maturation in a facultatively paedomorphic salamander, Ambystoma talpoideum. We determine that indi- viduals possessing the well-known paedomorphic phenotype are peramorphic with regard to maturation, through the process of predisplacement (an earlier onset of maturation). Combining the well studied ecology of dimorphic A. talpoideum populations with theories of heterochronic mechanisms and life history evolution, we conclude that age at maturation is the principal target of selection and that morphological changes are secondary effects. Increased attention to the intimate connection between life history evolution and heterochrony is the most promising route to a better understanding of both.

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  • Travis J. Ryan

  • Raymond D. Semlitsch

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