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Journal Article

A Developmental Analysis of an Evolutionary Trend: Digital Reduction in Amphibians

Pere Alberch and Emily A. Gale
Evolution
Vol. 39, No. 1 (Jan., 1985), pp. 8-23
DOI: 10.2307/2408513
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2408513
Page Count: 16

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Topics: Toes, Phalanges, Amphibians, Evolution, Salamanders, Animal morphology, Limb buds, Frogs, Ontogeny, Phylogeny
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
A Developmental Analysis of an Evolutionary Trend: Digital Reduction in Amphibians
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Abstract

In this study, we integrate information from phylogeny, comparative ontogeny, and experimental embryology in an attempt to elucidate the mechanisms controlling evolutionary trends towards digital reduction and loss observed in amphibians. Frogs and salamanders that have lost phalanges and even whole toes have done so in a very ordered manner, i.e., certain skeletal elements are lost prior to others. This pattern of morphological diversity is described and trends elucidated. It is concluded that the process is characterized by striking intraordinal convergences coupled with substantial differences between the trends observed in frogs as compared to urodeles. We argue that this pattern is essentially a reflection of the differences in the ontogenies of the two orders. Similarly, the convergences within urodeles and within anurans can be explained as the result of regulation of developmental parameters in a resilient developmental program. We further explore this hypothesis by experimentally perturbing the number of cells in the embryonic limb primordium to show that reduction in the number of mesenchymal cells secondarily affects the developmental process of pattern formation causing a rearrangement of the skeletal morphology of the foot. The same experimental manipulation has different effects in frogs as compared to salamanders. However, in both cases, the experimentally generated morphologies tend to parallel the phenotypes and trends observed in nature. Our conclusion is that most of the patterns of diversity in the digital morphology of amphibians can be explained as a reflection of developmental properties. In general, we present a methodology that attempts to empirically address the issue of identifying developmental constraint in morphological evolution.

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