Int. J. Dev. Biol. 40: 859 - 869 (1996)
© UPV/EHU Press

Direct development in the lungless salamanders: what are the consequences for developmental biology, evolution and phylogenesis?

D B Wake and J Hanken

Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, University of California, Berkeley, USA.

ABSTRACT Direct development is a widespread alternate reproductive mode in living amphibians that is characterized by evolutionary loss of the free-living, aquatic larval stage. Courtship, mating, and oviposition occur on land, and the terrestrial egg hatches as a fully formed, miniature adult. While it is the most common reproductive mode in urodeles, development outside the reproductive tract of the female that proceeds directly to a terrestrial hatchling occurs in only a single lineage, the lungless salamanders of the family Plethodontidae. Evolution of direct development in plethodontids has contributed importantly to the extraordinary evolutionary success of this speciose, geographically widespread, and morphologically and ecologically diverse taxon. Developmental consequences and correlates include increased egg size and embryonic development time, loss of larval structures and ontogenetic repatterning, and altered pattern formation in organogenesis. Evolutionary and phylogenetic consequences and correlates include the loss of larval constraints and origin of morphological novelty, and frequent homoplasy. Analysis of direct development in an evolutionary context illustrates the complex interplay between processes of phylogenetic divergence and developmental biology, and substantiates the prominent role of developmental processes in both constraining phenotypic variation and promoting phenotypic diversity. Despite the proven suitability of direct-developing plethodontid salamanders for laboratory and field study, knowledge of basic features of their developmental biology remains far below that available for many other urodeles. Examination of such features of these "non-model" organisms is an appropriate and deserving goal of future research.