Repeated evolution of limblessness and digging heads in worm lizards revealed by DNA from old bones.
ABSTRACT: The evolutionary relationships of the burrowing amphisbaenians ('worm lizards') have long been controversial for several reasons: the rarity of museum specimens available for study, highly derived morphological conditions that can confound comparative studies and difficulty in obtaining tissues for molecular phylogenetic studies because of their secretive habits in the wild. We present a phylogenetic analysis of two nuclear genes obtained from both fresh tissues and museum specimens of worm lizards. We achieved sufficient taxonomic sampling for analysis by extracting DNA from museum specimens using a modified forensics protocol. Results show the limbless Rhineuridae to be the most basal lineage, whereas the limbed Bipedidae occupy a more derived position as the sister-taxon to a Trogonophidae-Amphisbaenidae clade. This pattern of relationships indicates widespread morphological convergence within the group, including three independent incidences of limb loss. Convergence in skull shape and scalation is also prevalent. Mosaic evolution in the skull versus postcranial skeleton parallels that seen in snake evolution.
Project description:Populations of terrestrial or freshwater taxa that are separated by oceans can be explained by either oceanic dispersal or fragmentation of a previously contiguous land mass. Amphisbaenians, the worm lizards (approx. 165 species), are small squamate reptiles that are uniquely adapted to a burrowing lifestyle and inhabit Africa, South America, Caribbean Islands, North America, Europe and the Middle East. All but a few species are limbless and they rarely leave their subterranean burrows. Given their peculiar habits, the distribution of amphisbaenians has been assumed to be primarily the result of two land-mass fragmentation events: the split of the supercontinent Pangaea starting 200 Myr ago, separating species on the northern land mass (Laurasia) from those on the southern land mass (Gondwana), and the split of South America from Africa 100 Myr ago. Here we show with molecular evidence that oceanic dispersal-on floating islands-played a more prominent role, and that amphisbaenians crossed the Atlantic Ocean in the Eocene (40 Myr ago) resulting in a tropical American radiation representing one-half of all known amphisbaenian species. Until now, only four or five transatlantic dispersal events were known in terrestrial vertebrates. Significantly, this is the first such dispersal event to involve a group that burrows, an unexpected lifestyle for an oceanic disperser.
Project description:Johann Ludwig Christian Gravenhorst's herpetological collection at the Museum of Natural History, University of Wrocław included numerous important specimens of amphibians and reptiles. The majority, if not the entirety, of this collection has long been thought to be lost. However, we were able to rediscover some type specimens of lizards. The rediscovered specimens include the holotypes of Liolaemus conspersus and L. hieroglyphicus, one syntype of Callopistes maculatus (here designated as the lectotype) and two syntypes of L. lineatus (one of which is herein designated as the lectotype). Reexamination of these specimens indicates that previous synonymies proposed for L. conspersus and two syntypes of L. hieroglyphicus are problematic; furthermore, more complex taxonomic work is needed to resolve this issue. Two rediscovered syntypes of L. lineatus differ in several scalation traits and are possibly not conspecific. The type specimens of several other species of lizards from Gravenhorst's collection (Liolaemus marmoratus, L. unicolor and two other syntypes of L. lineatus, Leiocephalus schreibersii and Chalcides viridanus) were not found and are probably lost.
Project description:Worm lizards (Amphisbaenia) are burrowing squamates that live as subterranean predators. Their underground existence should limit dispersal, yet they are widespread throughout the Americas, Europe and Africa. This pattern was traditionally explained by continental drift, but molecular clocks suggest a Cenozoic diversification, long after the break-up of Pangaea, implying dispersal. Here, we describe primitive amphisbaenians from the North American Palaeocene, including the oldest known amphisbaenian, and provide new and older molecular divergence estimates for the clade, showing that worm lizards originated in North America, then radiated and dispersed in the Palaeogene following the Cretaceous-Palaeogene (K-Pg) extinction. This scenario implies at least three trans-oceanic dispersals: from North America to Europe, from North America to Africa and from Africa to South America. Amphisbaenians provide a striking case study in biogeography, suggesting that the role of continental drift in biogeography may be overstated. Instead, these patterns support Darwin and Wallace's hypothesis that the geographical ranges of modern clades result from dispersal, including oceanic rafting. Mass extinctions may facilitate dispersal events by eliminating competitors and predators that would otherwise hinder establishment of dispersing populations, removing biotic barriers to dispersal.
Project description:BACKGROUND: Varanidae is a clade of tiny (<20 mm pre-caudal length [PCL]) to giant (>600 mm PCL) lizards first appearing in the Cretaceous. True monitor lizards (Varanus) are known from diagnostic remains beginning in the early Miocene (Varanus rusingensis), although extremely fragmentary remains have been suggested as indicating earlier Varanus. The paleobiogeographic history of Varanus and timing for origin of its gigantism remain uncertain. METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: A new Varanus from the Mytilini Formation (Turolian, Miocene) of Samos, Greece is described. The holotype consists of a partial skull roof, right side of a braincase, partial posterior mandible, fragment of clavicle, and parts of six vertebrae. A cladistic analysis including 83 taxa coded for 5733 molecular and 489 morphological characters (71 previously unincluded) demonstrates that the new fossil is a nested member of an otherwise exclusively East Asian Varanus clade. The new species is the earliest-known giant (>600 mm PCL) terrestrial lizard. Importantly, this species co-existed with a diverse continental mammalian fauna. CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: The new monitor is larger (longer) than 99% of known fossil and living lizards. Varanus includes, by far, the largest limbed squamates today. The only extant non-snake squamates that approach monitors in maximum size are the glass-snake Pseudopus and the worm-lizard Amphisbaena. Mosasauroids were larger, but exclusively marine, and occurred only during the Late Cretaceous. Large, extant, non-Varanus, lizards are limbless and/or largely isolated from mammalian competitors. By contrast, our new Varanus achieved gigantism in a continental environment populated by diverse eutherian mammal competitors.
Project description:The evolution of blanid amphisbaenians (Mediterranean worm lizards) is mainly inferred based on molecular studies, despite their fossils are common in Cenozoic European localities. This is because the fossil record exclusively consists in isolated elements of limited taxonomic value. We describe the only known fossil amphisbaenian skull from Europe - attributed to Blanus mendezi sp. nov. (Amphisbaenia, Blanidae) - which represents the most informative fossil blanid material ever described. This specimen, from the Middle Miocene of Abocador de Can Mata (11.6 Ma, MN7+8) in the Vallès-Penedès Basin (Catalonia, NE Iberian Peninsula), unambiguously asserts the presence of Blanus in the Miocene of Europe. This reinforces the referral to this genus of the previously-known, much more incomplete and poorly-diagnostic material from other localities of the European Neogene. Our analysis - integrating the available molecular, paleontological and biogeographic data - suggests that the new species postdates the divergence between the two main (Eastern and Western Mediterranean) extant clades of blanids, and probably precedes the split between the Iberian and North-Western African subclades. This supports previous paleobiogeographic scenarios for blanid evolution and provides a significant minimum divergence time for calibrating molecular analyses of blanid phylogeny.
Project description:<h4>Background</h4>The study of convergently acquired adaptations allows fundamental insight into life's evolutionary history. Within lepidosaur reptiles-i.e. lizards, tuatara, and snakes-a fully fossorial ('burrowing') lifestyle has independently evolved in most major clades. However, despite their consistent use of the skull as a digging tool, cranial modifications common to all these lineages are yet to be found. In particular, bone microanatomy, although highly diagnostic for lifestyle, remains unexplored in the lepidosaur cranium. This constitutes a key gap in our understanding of their complexly interwoven ecology, morphology, and evolution. In order to bridge this gap, we reconstructed the acquisition of a fossorial lifestyle in 2813 lepidosaurs and assessed the skull roof compactness from microCT cross-sections in a representative subset (n =?99). We tested this and five macroscopic morphological traits for their convergent evolution.<h4>Results</h4>We found that fossoriality evolved independently in 54 lepidosaur lineages. Furthermore, a highly compact skull roof, small skull diameter, elongate cranium, and low length ratio of frontal and parietal were repeatedly acquired in concert with a fossorial lifestyle.<h4>Conclusions</h4>We report a novel case of convergence that concerns lepidosaur diversity as a whole. Our findings further indicate an early evolution of fossorial modifications in the amphisbaenian 'worm-lizards' and support a fossorial origin for snakes. Nonetheless, our results suggest distinct evolutionary pathways between fossorial lizards and snakes through different contingencies. We thus provide novel insights into the evolutionary mechanisms and constraints underlying amniote diversity and a powerful tool for the reconstruction of extinct reptile ecology.
Project description:Biological specimens are primary records of organismal ecology and history. As such, museum collections are invaluable repositories for testing ecological and evolutionary hypotheses across the tree of life. Digitizing and broadly sharing the phenotypic data from these collections serves to expand the traditional reach of museums, enabling widespread data sharing, collaboration, and education at an unprecedented scale. In recent years, ?CT-scanning has been adopted as one way for efficiently digitizing museum specimens. Here, we describe a large repository of 3D, ?CT-scanned images and surfaces of skulls from 359 extant species of bats, a highly diverse clade of modern vertebrates. This digital repository spans much of the taxonomic, biogeographic, and morphological diversity present across bats. All data have been published to the MorphoSource platform, an online database explicitly designed for the archiving of 3D morphological data. We demonstrate one potential use of this repository by testing for convergence in skull shape among one particularly diverse group of bats, the superfamily Noctilionoidea. Beyond its intrinsic utility to bat biologists, our digital specimens represent a resource for educators and for any researchers seeking to broadly test theories of trait evolution, functional ecology, and community assembly.
Project description:Background:We present a dataset with information from the snake collection of the Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi, known as the "Ophidia Collection". This collection currently has 26,728 specimens of snakes, including 9 families, 66 genera and 220 species. For the most part, it represents material from the Amazon Region. Specimens are preserved mostly in wet (alcohol) preparation, with some samples preserved in dry form, as is the case of the shells and skeletons of turtles. The dataset is now available for public consultation on the Global Biodiversity Information Facility portal (https://doi.org/10.15468/lt0wet). New information:The Herpetological collection of Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi comprises the largest collection of its kind in the Amazon region with about 100,000 specimens of amphibians and reptiles (chelonians, alligators, lizards, snakes and amphisbaenians). This collection currently has 26,728 specimens of snakes, including 9 families, 66 genera and 220 species, some of which are endemic to the Amazon rainforest region. The Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi is the second oldest institution of science in Brazil in activity, founded in 1866.
Project description:A new colubrid species of the genus Tantilla from the dry forest of the northern Peruvian Andes is described on the basis of two specimens, which exhibit a conspicuous sexual dimorphism. Tantilla tjiasmantoi sp. nov. represents the third species of the genus in Peru. The new species is easily distinguished from its congeners by the combination of scalation characteristics and the unusual transversely-banded color pattern on the dorsum. A detailed description of the skull morphology of the new species is given based on micro-computed tomography images. The habitat of this new species is gravely threatened due to human interventions. Conservation efforts are urgently needed in the inter-Andean valley of the Maranon River.
Project description:Native to southern Africa, the blue antelope (Hippotragus leucophaeus) is the only large African mammal species known to have become extinct in historical times. However, it was poorly documented prior to its extinction?~?1800 AD, and many of the small number of museum specimens attributed to it are taxonomically contentious. This places limitations on our understanding of its morphology, ecology, and the mechanisms responsible for its demise. We retrieved genetic information from ten of the sixteen putative blue antelope museum specimens using both shotgun sequencing and mitochondrial genome target capture in an attempt to resolve the uncertainty surrounding the identification of these specimens. We found that only four of the ten investigated specimens, and not a single skull, represent the blue antelope. This indicates that the true number of historical museum specimens of the blue antelope is even smaller than previously thought, and therefore hardly any reference material is available for morphometric, comparative and genetic studies. Our study highlights how genetics can be used to identify rare species in natural history collections where other methods may fail or when records are scarce. Additionally, we present an improved mitochondrial reference genome for the blue antelope as well as one complete and two partial mitochondrial genomes. A first analysis of these mitochondrial genomes indicates low levels of maternal genetic diversity in the 'museum population', possibly confirming previous results that blue antelope population size was already low at the time of the European colonization of South Africa.