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First evidence of convergent lifestyle signal in reptile skull roof microanatomy.


ABSTRACT:

Background

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.

Results

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.

Conclusions

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.

SUBMITTER: Ebel R 

PROVIDER: S-EPMC7702674 | BioStudies | 2020-01-01

REPOSITORIES: biostudies

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