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J Morphol April 1, 2000; 244 (1): 57-67.

Evolutionary mechanisms of rib loss in anurans: a comparative developmental approach.

Blanco MJ , Sanchiz B .

ABSTRACT The presence of free ribs is presumed to be a primitive morphological character observed only in a few families of Recent anurans, whereas the absence of ribs has been considered to be a derived condition that is widespread within this order. A comparative study of rib development based on representatives of several anuran lineages (Alytes, Bombina, Bufo, Discoglossus, Hyla, Pelobates, Pelodytes, Rana, and Xenopus) reveals a previously undetected diversity of developmental features in the formation and interaction between neural arches and ribs. The absence of free ribs at premetamorphic or later stages is verified in some groups, but we present for the first time evidence of the existence of larval rib rudiments in others, both in the anterior (Rana, Hyla) and posterior (Bufo, Discoglossus, Pelobates) presacral regions. Heterochrony seems to have played a major role in the processes underlying rib reduction. The intracolumnar differences between anterior (V(2)-V(4)) and posterior (V(5)-V(8)) regions are based on perturbations in the timing of early differentiation. Furthermore, a clear shift in the relative timing of ossification among evolutionary lineages was detected. In this respect Xenopus has a highly derived condition. The use of the morphological character of "rib loss" in phylogenetic analyses must be reconsidered due to the different convergent developmental paths described here. The phylogenetic analysis of a "sequence units" matrix of rib development is compared with current anuran phylogenies. Some evolutionary information appears to be clearly present in the ontogenetic data of this "missing morphology," but its value for evolutionary inferences is rather limited.

PubMed ID: 10723081
Article link: J Morphol