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Heterochrony, cannibalism, and the evolution of viviparity in Salamandra salamandra

  • Author(s): Buckley, David
  • Alcobendas, Marina
  • García-París, Mario
  • Wake, Marvalee H
  • et al.

The way in which novelties that lead to macroevolutionary events originate is a major question in evolutionary biology, and one that can be addressed using the fire salamander (Salamandra salamandra) as a model system. It is exceptional among amphibians in displaying intraspecific diversity of reproductive strategies. In S. salamandra, two distinct modes of reproduction co-occur: the common mode, ovoviviparity (females giving birth to many small larvae), and a phylogenetically derived reproductive strategy, viviparity (females producing only a few large, fully metamorphosed juveniles, which are nourished maternally). We examine the relationship between heterochronic modifications of the ontogeny and the evolution of the new reproductive mode in the fire salamander. The in vitro development of embryos of ovoviviparous and viviparous salamanders from fertilization to metamorphosis is compared, highlighting the key events that distinguish the two modes of reproduction. We identify the heterochronic events that, together with the intrauterine cannibalistic behavior, characterize the derived viviparous reproductive strategy. The ways in which evolutionary novelties can arise by modification of developmental programs can be studied in S. salamandra. Moreover, the variation in reproductive modes and the associated variation of sequences of development occur in neighboring, conspecific populations. Thus, S. salamandra is a unique biological system in which evolutionary developmental research questions can be addressed at the level of populations.

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