Evolution of paedomorphosis in plethodontid salamanders: Ecological correlates and re-evolution of metamorphosis

Ronald M. Bonett, Michael A. Steffen, Shea M. Lambert, John J. Wiens, Paul T. Chippindale

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


Life-history modes can profoundly impact the biology of a species, and a classic example is the dichotomy between metamorphic (biphasic) and paedomorphic (permanently aquatic) life-history strategies in salamanders. However, despite centuries of research on this system, several basic questions about the evolution of paedomorphosis in salamanders have not been addressed. Here, we use a nearly comprehensive, time-calibrated phylogeny of spelerpine plethodontids to reconstruct the evolution of paedomorphosis and to test if paedomorphosis is (1) reversible; (2) associated with living in caves; (3) associated with relatively dry climatic conditions on the surface; and (4) correlated with limited range size and geographic dispersal. We find that paedomorphosis arose multiple times in spelerpines. We also find evidence for re-evolution of metamorphosis after several million years of paedomorphosis in a lineage of Eurycea from the Edwards Plateau region of Texas. We also show for the first time using phylogenetic comparative methods that paedomorphosis is highly correlated with cave-dwelling, arid surface environments, and small geographic range sizes, providing insights into both the causes and consequences of this major life history transition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)466-482
Number of pages17
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2014


  • Amphibians
  • Biogeography
  • Climate
  • Development
  • Life history
  • Phylogeny

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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