Despite much interest in amniote systematics, the origin of turtles remains elusive. Traditional morphological phylogenetic analyses place turtles outside Diapsida—amniotes whose ancestor had two fenestrae in the temporal region of the skull (among the living forms the tuatara, lizards, birds and crocodilians)—and allied with some unfenestrate-skulled (anapsid) taxa. Nonetheless, some morphological analyses place turtles within Diapsida, allied with Lepidosauria (tuatara and lizards). Most molecular studies agree that turtles are diapsids, but rather than allying them with lepidosaurs, instead place turtles near or within Archosauria (crocodilians and birds). Thus, three basic phylogenetic positions for turtles with respect to extant Diapsida are currently debated: (i) sister to Diapsida, (ii) sister to Lepidosauria, or (iii) sister to, or within, Archosauria. Interestingly, although these three alternatives are consistent with a single unrooted four-taxon tree for extant reptiles, they differ with respect to the position of the root. Here, we apply a novel molecular dataset, the presence versus absence of specific microRNAs, to the problem of the phylogenetic position of turtles and the root of the reptilian tree, and find that this dataset unambiguously supports a turtle + lepidosaur group. We find that turtles and lizards share four unique miRNA gene families that are not found in any other organisms' genome or small RNA library, and no miRNAs are found in all diapsids but not turtles, or in turtles and archosaurs but not in lizards. The concordance between our result and some morphological analyses suggests that there have been numerous morphological convergences and reversals in reptile phylogeny, including the loss of temporal fenestrae.
turtle; microRNA; amniote
We present the first genomic-scale analysis addressing the phylogenetic position of turtles, using over 1000 loci from representatives of all major reptile lineages including tuatara. Previously, studies of morphological traits positioned turtles either at the base of the reptile tree or with lizards, snakes and tuatara (lepidosaurs), whereas molecular analyses typically allied turtles with crocodiles and birds (archosaurs). A recent analysis of shared microRNA families found that turtles are more closely related to lepidosaurs. To test this hypothesis with data from many single-copy nuclear loci dispersed throughout the genome, we used sequence capture, high-throughput sequencing and published genomes to obtain sequences from 1145 ultraconserved elements (UCEs) and their variable flanking DNA. The resulting phylogeny provides overwhelming support for the hypothesis that turtles evolved from a common ancestor of birds and crocodilians, rejecting the hypothesized relationship between turtles and lepidosaurs.
turtles; ultraconserved elements; phylogenomics; evolution; archosaurs
The complete mitochondrial genomes of two reptiles, the common iguana (Iguana iguana) and the caiman (Caiman crocodylus), were sequenced in order to investigate phylogenetic questions of tetrapod evolution. The addition of the two species allows analysis of reptilian relationships using data sets other than those including only fast-evolving species. The crocodilian mitochondrial genomes seem to have evolved generally at a higher rate than those of other vertebrates. Phylogenetic analyses of 2889 amino-acid sites from 35 mitochondrial genomes supported the bird-crocodile relationship, lending no support to the Haematotherma hypothesis (with birds and mammals representing sister groups). The analyses corroborated the view that turtles are at the base of the bird-crocodile branch. This position of the turtles makes Diapsida paraphyletic. The origin of the squamates was estimated at 294 million years (Myr) ago and that of the turtles at 278 Myr ago. Phylogenetic analysis of mammalian relationships using the additional outgroups corroborated the Marsupionta hypothesis, which joins the monotremes and the marsupials to the exclusion of the eutherians.
Extant sauropsids (reptiles and birds) are divided into two major lineages, the lineage of Testudines (turtles) and Archosauria (crocodilians and birds) and the lineage of Lepidosauria (tuatara, lizards, worm lizards and snakes). Karyotypes of these sauropsidan groups generally consist of macrochromosomes and microchromosomes. In chicken, microchromosomes exhibit a higher GC-content than macrochromosomes. To examine the pattern of intra-genomic GC heterogeneity in lepidosaurian genomes, we constructed a cytogenetic map of the Japanese four-striped rat snake (Elaphe quadrivirgata) with 183 cDNA clones by fluorescence in situ hybridization, and examined the correlation between the GC-content of exonic third codon positions (GC3) of the genes and the size of chromosomes on which the genes were localized.
Although GC3 distribution of snake genes was relatively homogeneous compared with those of the other amniotes, microchromosomal genes showed significantly higher GC3 than macrochromosomal genes as in chicken. Our snake cytogenetic map also identified several conserved segments between the snake macrochromosomes and the chicken microchromosomes. Cross-species comparisons revealed that GC3 of most snake orthologs in such macrochromosomal segments were GC-poor (GC3 < 50%) whereas those of chicken orthologs in microchromosomes were relatively GC-rich (GC3 ≥ 50%).
Our results suggest that the chromosome size-dependent GC heterogeneity had already occurred before the lepidosaur-archosaur split, 275 million years ago. This character was probably present in the common ancestor of lepidosaurs and but lost in the lineage leading to Anolis during the diversification of lepidosaurs. We also identified several genes whose GC-content might have been influenced by the size of the chromosomes on which they were harbored over the course of sauropsid evolution.
GC-content; Lepidosauria; Snake; Macrochromosome; Microchromosome
The phylogenetic position of turtles is the most disputed aspect in the reconstruction of the land vertebrate tree of life. This controversy has arisen after many different kinds and revisions of investigations of molecular and morphological data. Three main hypotheses of living sister-groups of turtles have resulted from them: all reptiles, crocodiles + birds or squamates + tuatara. Although embryology has played a major role in morphological studies of vertebrate phylogeny, data on developmental timing have never been examined to explore and test the alternative phylogenetic hypotheses. We conducted a comprehensive study of published and new embryological data comprising 15 turtle and eight tetrapod species belonging to other taxa, integrating for the first time data on the side-necked turtle clade.
The timing of events in organogenesis of diverse character complexes in all body regions is not uniform across amniotes and can be analysed using a parsimony-based method. Changes in the relative timing of particular events diagnose many clades of amniotes and include a phylogenetic signal. A basal position of turtles to the living saurian clades is clearly supported by timing of organogenesis data.
The clear signal of a basal position of turtles provided by heterochronic data implies significant convergence in either molecular, adult morphological or developmental timing characters, as only one of the alternative solutions to the phylogenetic conundrum can be right. The development of a standard reference series of embryological events in amniotes as presented here should enable future improvements and expansion of sampling and thus the examination of other hypotheses about phylogeny and patterns of the evolution of land vertebrate development.
Reptiles are one of the most ecologically and evolutionarily remarkable groups of living organisms, having successfully colonized most of the planet, including the oceans and some of the harshest and more environmentally unstable ecosystems on earth. Here, based on a complete dataset of all the world’s diversity of living reptiles, we analyse lineage taxonomic richness both within and among clades, at different levels of the phylogenetic hierarchy. We also analyse the historical tendencies in the descriptions of new reptile species from Linnaeus to March 2012. Although (non-avian) reptiles are the second most species-rich group of amniotes after birds, most of their diversity (96.3%) is concentrated in squamates (59% lizards, 35% snakes, and 2% amphisbaenians). In strong contrast, turtles (3.4%), crocodilians (0.3%), and tuataras (0.01%) are far less diverse. In terms of species discoveries, most turtles and crocodilians were described early, while descriptions of lizards, snakes and amphisbaenians are multimodal with respect to time. Lizard descriptions, in particular, have reached unprecedented levels during the last decade. Finally, despite such remarkably asymmetric distributions of reptile taxonomic diversity among groups, we found that the distributions of lineage richness are consistently right-skewed, with most clades (monophyletic families and genera) containing few lineages (monophyletic genera and species, respectively), while only a few have radiated greatly (notably the families Colubridae and Scincidae, and the lizard genera Anolis and Liolaemus). Therefore, such consistency in the frequency distribution of richness among clades and among phylogenetic levels suggests that the nature of reptile biodiversity is fundamentally fractal (i.e., it is scale invariant). We then compared current reptile diversity with the global reptile diversity and taxonomy known in 1980. Despite substantial differences in the taxonomies (relative to 2012), the patterns of lineage richness remain qualitatively identical, hence reinforcing our conclusions about the fractal nature of reptile biodiversity.
The origin of turtles is one of the most contentious issues in systematics with three currently viable hypotheses: turtles as the extant sister to (i) the crocodile–bird clade, (ii) the lizard–tuatara clade, or (iii) Diapsida (a clade composed of (i) and (ii)). We reanalysed a recent dataset that allied turtles with the lizard–tuatara clade and found that the inclusion of the stem turtle Proganochelys quenstedti and the ‘parareptile’ Eunotosaurus africanus results in a single overriding morphological signal, with turtles outside Diapsida. This result reflects the importance of transitional fossils when long branches separate crown clades, and highlights unexplored issues such as the role of topological congruence when using fossils to calibrate molecular clocks.
turtle; Diapsida; molecular clock; transitional fossil; Eunotosaurus africanus; Odontochelys semitestacea
The phylogenetic position of turtles within the vertebrate tree of life remains controversial. Conflicting conclusions from different studies are likely a consequence of systematic error in the tree construction process, rather than random error from small amounts of data. Using genomic data, we evaluate the phylogenetic position of turtles with both conventional concatenated data analysis and a “genes as characters” approach. Two datasets were constructed, one with seven species (human, opossum, zebra finch, chicken, green anole, Chinese pond turtle, and western clawed frog) and 4584 orthologous genes, and the second with four additional species (soft-shelled turtle, Nile crocodile, royal python, and tuatara) but only 1638 genes. Our concatenated data analysis strongly supported turtle as the sister-group to archosaurs (the archosaur hypothesis), similar to several recent genomic data based studies using similar methods. When using genes as characters and gene trees as character-state trees with equal weighting for each gene, however, our parsimony analysis suggested that turtles are possibly sister-group to diapsids, archosaurs, or lepidosaurs. None of these resolutions were strongly supported by bootstraps. Furthermore, our incongruence analysis clearly demonstrated that there is a large amount of inconsistency among genes and most of the conflict relates to the placement of turtles. We conclude that the uncertain placement of turtles is a reflection of the true state of nature. Concatenated data analysis of large and heterogeneous datasets likely suffers from systematic error and over-estimates of confidence as a consequence of a large number of characters. Using genes as characters offers an alternative for phylogenomic analysis. It has potential to reduce systematic error, such as data heterogeneity and long-branch attraction, and it can also avoid problems associated with computation time and model selection. Finally, treating genes as characters provides a convenient method for examining gene and genome evolution.
Rates of biological diversification should ultimately correspond to rates of genome evolution. Recent studies have compared diversification rates with phylogenetic branch lengths, but incomplete phylogenies hamper such analyses for many taxa. Herein, we use pairwise comparisons of confamilial sauropsid (bird and reptile) mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) genome sequences to estimate substitution rates. These molecular evolutionary rates are considered in light of the age and species richness of each taxonomic family, using a random-walk speciation–extinction process to estimate rates of diversification. We find the molecular clock ticks at disparate rates in different families and at different genes. For example, evolutionary rates are relatively fast in snakes and lizards, intermediate in crocodilians and slow in turtles and birds. There was also rate variation across genes, where non-synonymous substitution rates were fastest at ATP8 and slowest at CO3. Family-by-gene interactions were significant, indicating that local clocks vary substantially among sauropsids. Most importantly, we find evidence that mitochondrial genome evolutionary rates are positively correlated with speciation rates and with contemporary species richness. Nuclear sequences are poorly represented among reptiles, but the correlation between rates of molecular evolution and species diversification also extends to 18 avian nuclear genes we tested. Thus, the nuclear data buttress our mtDNA findings.
molecular evolution; nucleotide substitution; sauropsid; speciation; mitochondrial DNA; nuclear genes
Comparative genome analysis of non-avian reptiles and amphibians provides important clues about the process of genome evolution in tetrapods. However, there is still only limited information available on the genome structures of these organisms. Consequently, the protokaryotypes of amniotes and tetrapods and the evolutionary processes of microchromosomes in tetrapods remain poorly understood. We constructed chromosome maps of functional genes for the Chinese soft-shelled turtle (Pelodiscus sinensis), the Siamese crocodile (Crocodylus siamensis), and the Western clawed frog (Xenopus tropicalis) and compared them with genome and/or chromosome maps of other tetrapod species (salamander, lizard, snake, chicken, and human). This is the first report on the protokaryotypes of amniotes and tetrapods and the evolutionary processes of microchromosomes inferred from comparative genomic analysis of vertebrates, which cover all major non-avian reptilian taxa (Squamata, Crocodilia, Testudines). The eight largest macrochromosomes of the turtle and chicken were equivalent, and 11 linkage groups had also remained intact in the crocodile. Linkage groups of the chicken macrochromosomes were also highly conserved in X. tropicalis, two squamates, and the salamander, but not in human. Chicken microchromosomal linkages were conserved in the squamates, which have fewer microchromosomes than chicken, and also in Xenopus and the salamander, which both lack microchromosomes; in the latter, the chicken microchromosomal segments have been integrated into macrochromosomes. Our present findings open up the possibility that the ancestral amniotes and tetrapods had at least 10 large genetic linkage groups and many microchromosomes, which corresponded to the chicken macro- and microchromosomes, respectively. The turtle and chicken might retain the microchromosomes of the amniote protokaryotype almost intact. The decrease in number and/or disappearance of microchromosomes by repeated chromosomal fusions probably occurred independently in the amphibian, squamate, crocodilian, and mammalian lineages.
Crocodilians (Order Crocodylia) are an ancient vertebrate group of tremendous ecological, social, and evolutionary importance. They are the only extant reptilian members of Archosauria, a monophyletic group that also includes birds, dinosaurs, and pterosaurs. Consequently, crocodilian genomes represent a gateway through which the molecular evolution of avian lineages can be explored. To facilitate comparative genomics within Crocodylia and between crocodilians and other archosaurs, we have constructed a bacterial artificial chromosome (BAC) library for the Australian saltwater crocodile, Crocodylus porosus. This is the first BAC library for a crocodile and only the second BAC resource for a crocodilian.
The C. porosus BAC library consists of 101,760 individually archived clones stored in 384-well microtiter plates. NotI digestion of random clones indicates an average insert size of 102 kb. Based on a genome size estimate of 2778 Mb, the library affords 3.7 fold (3.7×) coverage of the C. porosus genome. To investigate the utility of the library in studying sequence distribution, probes derived from CR1a and CR1b, two crocodilian CR1-like retrotransposon subfamilies, were hybridized to C. porosus macroarrays. The results indicate that there are a minimum of 20,000 CR1a/b elements in C. porosus and that their distribution throughout the genome is decidedly non-random. To demonstrate the utility of the library in gene isolation, we probed the C. porosus macroarrays with an overgo designed from a C-mos (oocyte maturation factor) partial cDNA. A BAC containing C-mos was identified and the C-mos locus was sequenced. Nucleotide and amino acid sequence alignment of the C. porosus C-mos coding sequence with avian and reptilian C-mos orthologs reveals greater sequence similarity between C. porosus and birds (specifically chicken and zebra finch) than between C. porosus and squamates (green anole).
We have demonstrated the utility of the Crocodylus porosus BAC library as a tool in genomics research. The BAC library should expedite complete genome sequencing of C. porosus and facilitate detailed analysis of genome evolution within Crocodylia and between crocodilians and diverse amniote lineages including birds, mammals, and other non-avian reptiles.
Population decline and a shift in the geographical distribution of some ectothermic animals have been attributed to climatic warming. Here, we show that rises in water temperature of a few degrees, while within the thermal window for locomotor performance, may be detrimental to diving behaviour in air-breathing ectotherms (turtles, crocodilians, marine iguanas, amphibians, snakes and lizards). Submergence times and internal and external body temperature were remotely recorded from freshwater crocodiles (Crocodylus johnstoni) while they free-ranged throughout their natural habitat in summer and winter. During summer, the crocodiles' mean body temperature was 5.2 ± 0.1°C higher than in winter and the largest proportion of total dive time was composed of dive durations approximately 15 min less than in winter. Diving beyond 40 min during summer required the crocodiles to exponentially increase the time they spent on the surface after the dive, presumably to clear anaerobic debt. The relationship was not as significant in winter, even though a greater proportion of dives were of a longer duration, suggesting that diving lactate threshold (DLT) was reduced in summer compared with winter. Additional evidence for a reduced DLT in summer was derived from the stronger influence body mass exerted upon dive duration, compared to winter. The results demonstrate that the higher summer body temperature increased oxygen demand during the dive, implying that thermal acclimatization of the diving metabolic rate was inadequate. If the study findings are common among air-breathing diving ectotherms, then long-term warming of the aquatic environment may be detrimental to behavioural function and survivorship.
crocodilian; ectotherm; acclimatization; temperature; aerobic dive limit
Temperature-dependent sex determination (TSD) was first reported in 1966 in an African lizard. It has since been shown that TSD occurs in some fish, several lizards, tuataras, numerous turtles and all crocodilians. Extreme temperatures can also cause sex reversal in several amphibians and lizards with genotypic sex determination. Research in TSD species indicates that estrogen signaling is important for ovary development and that orthologs of mammalian genes have a function in gonad differentiation. Nevertheless, the mechanism that actually transduces temperature into a biological signal for ovary versus testis development is not known in any species. Classical genetics could be used to identify the loci underlying TSD, but only if there is segregating variation for TSD. Here, we use the ‘animal model' to analyze inheritance of sexual phenotype in a 13-generation pedigree of captive leopard geckos, Eublepharis macularius, a TSD reptile. We directly show genetic variance and genotype-by-temperature interactions for sex determination. Additive genetic variation was significant at a temperature that produces a female-biased sex ratio (30 °C), but not at a temperature that produces a male-biased sex ratio (32.5 °C). Conversely, dominance variance was significant at the male-biased temperature (32.5 °C), but not at the female-biased temperature (30 °C). Non-genetic maternal effects on sex determination were negligible in comparison with additive genetic variance, dominance variance and the primary effect of temperature. These data show for the first time that there is segregating variation for TSD in a reptile and consequently that a quantitative trait locus analysis would be practicable for identifying the genes underlying TSD.
maternal effects; quantitative genetics; reptile; sex ratio; temperature-dependent sex determination
The initial stages of evolution of Diapsida (the large clade that includes not only snakes, lizards, crocodiles and birds, but also dinosaurs and numerous other extinct taxa) is clouded by an exceedingly poor Palaeozoic fossil record. Previous studies had indicated a 38 Myr gap between the first appearance of the oldest diapsid clade (Araeoscelidia), ca 304 million years ago (Ma), and that of its sister group in the Middle Permian (ca 266 Ma). Two new reptile skulls from the Richards Spur locality, Lower Permian of Oklahoma, represent a new diapsid reptile: Orovenator mayorum n. gen. et sp. A phylogenetic analysis identifies O. mayorum as the oldest and most basal member of the araeoscelidian sister group. As Richards Spur has recently been dated to 289 Ma, the new diapsid neatly spans the above gap by appearing 15 Myr after the origin of Diapsida. The presence of O. mayorum at Richards Spur, which records a diverse upland fauna, suggests that initial stages in the evolution of non-araeoscelidian diapsids may have been tied to upland environments. This hypothesis is consonant with the overall scant record for non-araeoscelidian diapsids during the Permian Period, when the well-known terrestrial vertebrate communities are preserved almost exclusively in lowland deltaic, flood plain and lacustrine sedimentary rocks.
diapsida; evolution; phylogeny; Permian; reptile
New non-invasive technologies allow direct measurement of heart rates (and thus, developmental rates) of embryos. We applied these methods to a diverse array of oviparous reptiles (24 species of lizards, 18 snakes, 11 turtles, 1 crocodilian), to identify general influences on cardiac rates during embryogenesis. Heart rates increased with ambient temperature in all lineages, but (at the same temperature) were faster in lizards and turtles than in snakes and crocodilians. We analysed these data within a phylogenetic framework. Embryonic heart rates were faster in species with smaller adult sizes, smaller egg sizes, and shorter incubation periods. Phylogenetic changes in heart rates were negatively correlated with concurrent changes in adult body mass and residual incubation period among the lizards, snakes (especially within pythons) and crocodilians. The total number of embryonic heart beats between oviposition and hatching was lower in squamates than in turtles or the crocodilian. Within squamates, embryonic iguanians and gekkonids required more heartbeats to complete development than did embryos of the other squamate families that we tested. These differences plausibly reflect phylogenetic divergence in the proportion of embryogenesis completed before versus after laying.
The genome size in turtles and crocodiles is thought to be much larger than the 1.2 Gb of the chicken (Gallus gallus domesticus, GGA), according to the animal genome size database. However, GGA macrochromosomes show extensive homology in the karyotypes of the red eared slider (Trachemys scripta elegans, TSC) and the Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus, CNI), and bird and reptile genomes have been highly conserved during evolution. In this study, size and GC content of all chromosomes are measured from the flow karyotypes of GGA, TSC and CNI. Genome sizes estimated from the total chromosome size demonstrate that TSC and CNI are 1.21 Gb and 1.29 Gb, respectively. This refines previous overestimations and reveals similar genome sizes in chicken, turtle and crocodile. Analysis of chromosome GC content in each of these three species shows a higher GC content in smaller chromosomes than in larger chromosomes. This contrasts with mammals and squamates in which GC content does not correlate with chromosome size. These data suggest that a common ancestor of birds, turtles and crocodiles had a small genome size and a chromosomal size-dependent GC bias, distinct from the squamate lineage.
genome size; chromosome size; GC content; reptile genome evolution
Reptiles are largely under-represented in comparative genomics despite the fact that they are substantially more diverse in many respects than mammals. Given the high divergence of reptiles from classical model species, next-generation sequencing of their transcriptomes is an approach of choice for gene identification and annotation.
Here, we use 454 technology to sequence the brain transcriptome of four divergent reptilian and one reference avian species: the Nile crocodile, the corn snake, the bearded dragon, the red-eared turtle, and the chicken. Using an in-house pipeline for recursive similarity searches of >3,000,000 reads against multiple databases from 7 reference vertebrates, we compile a reptilian comparative transcriptomics dataset, with homology assignment for 20,000 to 31,000 transcripts per species and a cumulated non-redundant sequence length of 248.6 Mbases. Our approach identifies the majority (87%) of chicken brain transcripts and about 50% of de novo assembled reptilian transcripts. In addition to 57,502 microsatellite loci, we identify thousands of SNP and indel polymorphisms for population genetic and linkage analyses. We also build very large multiple alignments for Sauropsida and mammals (two million residues per species) and perform extensive phylogenetic analyses suggesting that turtles are not basal living reptiles but are rather associated with Archosaurians, hence, potentially answering a long-standing question in the phylogeny of Amniotes.
The reptilian transcriptome (freely available at http://www.reptilian-transcriptomes.org) should prove a useful new resource as reptiles are becoming important new models for comparative genomics, ecology, and evolutionary developmental genetics.
Insights into the onset of evolutionary novelties are key to the understanding of amniote origins and diversification. The possession of an impedance-matching tympanic middle ear is characteristic of all terrestrial vertebrates with a sophisticated hearing sense and an adaptively important feature of many modern terrestrial vertebrates. Whereas tympanic ears seem to have evolved multiple times within tetrapods, especially among crown-group members such as frogs, mammals, squamates, turtles, crocodiles, and birds, the presence of true tympanic ears has never been recorded in a Paleozoic amniote, suggesting they evolved fairly recently in amniote history.
In the present study, we performed a morphological examination and a phylogenetic analysis of poorly known parareptiles from the Middle Permian of the Mezen River Basin in Russia. We recovered a well-supported clade that is characterized by a unique cheek morphology indicative of a tympanum stretching across large parts of the temporal region to an extent not seen in other amniotes, fossil or extant, and a braincase specialized in showing modifications clearly related to an increase in auditory function, unlike the braincase of any other Paleozoic tetrapod. In addition, we estimated the ratio of the tympanum area relative to the stapedial footplate for the basalmost taxon of the clade, which, at 23∶1, is in close correspondence to that of modern amniotes capable of efficient impedance-matching hearing.
Using modern amniotes as analogues, the possession of an impedance-matching middle ear in these parareptiles suggests unique ecological adaptations potentially related to living in dim-light environments. More importantly, our results demonstrate that already at an early stage of amniote diversification, and prior to the Permo-Triassic extinction event, the complexity of terrestrial vertebrate ecosystems had reached a level that proved advanced sensory perception to be of notable adaptive significance.
Temperature-dependent sex determination (TSD) was first reported in 1966 in an African lizard. It has since been shown that TSD occurs in some fish, several lizards, tuataras, numerous turtles, and all crocodilians. Extreme temperatures can also cause sex reversal in several amphibians and lizards with genotypic sex determination. Research in TSD species indicates that estrogen signaling is important for ovary development and that orthologs of mammalian genes play a role in gonad differentiation. Nevertheless, the mechanism that actually transduces temperature into a biological signal for ovary versus testis development is not known in any species. Classical genetics could be used to identify the loci underlying TSD, but only if there is segregating variation for TSD. Here, we employ the “animal model” to analyze inheritance of sexual phenotype in a 13-generation pedigree of captive leopard geckos, Eublepharis macularius, a TSD reptile. We directly demonstrate genetic variance and genotype-by-temperature interactions for sex determination. Additive genetic variation was significant at a temperature that produces a female-biased sex ratio (30°C) but not at a temperature that produces a male-biased sex ratio (32.5°C). Conversely, dominance variance was significant at the male-biased temperature (32.5°C), but not at the female-biased temperature (30°C). Non-genetic maternal effects on sex determination were negligible in comparison to additive genetic variance, dominance variance, and the primary effect of temperature. These data show for the first time that there is segregating variation for TSD in a reptile and consequently that a QTL analysis would be practicable for identifying the genes underlying TSD.
maternal effects; quantitative genetics; reptile; sex ratio; temperature-dependent sex determination
Fieldwork conducted throughout Timor-Leste in September 2004 and July 2009 resulted in a collection or recording of 263 herpetological specimens (100 amphibians, 163 reptiles), comprising at least seven species of frogs and toads, 20 species of lizards, seven species of snakes, two species of turtles, and one species of crocodile. Among the amphibians, the most frequently encountered species were toads (Duttaphrynus melanostictus), rice paddy frogs (genus Fejervarya), and rhacophorid treefrogs (Polypedates cf. leucomystax). All three variants of rice paddy frogs encountered represent undescribed species similar to Fejervarya verruculosa from neighboring Wetar Island. Records of Fejervarya cancrivora and Fejervarya limnocharis for Timor Island are apparently errors based on misidentification. We obtained voucher specimens for a total of 147 lizards and voucher photographs only for four specimens of Varanus timorensis. Aside from geckos frequently associated with human habitations (e.g., Gehyra mutilata, Gekko gecko, Hemidactylus frenatus, Hemidactylus platyurus), we discovered an as yet undescribed species of bent-toed gecko, genus Cyrtodactylus, in the Same valley. Our specimens of Hemidactylus platyurus are the first record of this species from Timor-Leste. Commonly encountered skinks included four-fingered skinks (genus Carlia), wedge skinks (genus Sphenomorphus), and night skinks (genus Eremiascincus). Notable among the 15 snakes collected was the frequency of pitvipers (Cryptelytrops insularis), which amounted to over 25% of all snakes. Our specimen of the wolfsnake Lycodon subcinctus is the first record of this species for Timor-Leste. Based on these findings, it appears that the biodiversity of amphibians and reptiles in this remote corner of Wallacea is much greater than previously thought, particularly with respect to scincid lizards. The detail we provide in the species accounts is designed to allow the use of this report as a preliminary field guide to the amphibians and reptiles of Timor-Leste. However, survey work is ongoing.
herpetofauna; biodiversity; Timor-Leste; Wallacea
Tympanic hearing is a true evolutionary novelty that appears to have developed independently in at least five major tetrapod groups—the anurans, turtles, lepidosaurs, archosaurs and mammals. The emergence of a tympanic ear would have increased the frequency range and sensitivity of hearing. Furthermore, tympana were acoustically coupled through the mouth cavity and therefore inherently directional in a certain frequency range, acting as pressure difference receivers. In some lizard species, this acoustical coupling generates a 50-fold directional difference, usually at relatively high frequencies (2–4 kHz).
In ancestral atympanate tetrapods, we hypothesize that low-frequency sound may have been processed by non-tympanic mechanisms like those in extant amphibians. The subsequent emergence of tympanic hearing would have led to changes in the central auditory processing of both high-frequency sound and directional hearing. These changes should reflect the independent origin of the tympanic ears in the major tetrapod groups. The processing of low-frequency sound, however, may have been more conserved, since the acoustical coupling of the ancestral tympanate ear probably produced little sensitivity and directionality at low frequencies. Therefore, tetrapod auditory processing may originally have been organized into low- and high-frequency streams, where only the high-frequency processing was mediated by tympanic input.
The closure of the middle ear cavity in mammals and some birds is a derived condition, and may have profoundly changed the operation of the ear by decoupling the tympana, improving the low-frequency response of the tympanum, and leading to a requirement for additional neural computation of directionality in the central nervous system. We propose that these specializations transformed the low- and high-frequency streams into time and intensity pathways, respectively.
Middle ear; Tympanum; Lizard; Frog; Hearing; Auditory; Brain stem
The emergence of terrestrial life witnessed the need for more sophisticated circulatory systems. This has evolved in birds, mammals, and crocodilians into complete septation of the heart into left and right sides, allowing separate pulmonary and systemic circulatory systems, a key requirement for the evolution of endothermy1–3. However, the evolution of the amniote heart is poorly understood. Reptilian hearts have been the subject of debate in the context of the evolution of cardiac septation: do they possess a single ventricular chamber or two incompletely septated ventricles4–7? We examined heart development in the red-eared slider turtle, Trachemys scripta elegans (a chelonian), and the green anole, Anolis carolinensis (a squamate), focusing on gene expression in the developing ventricles. Both reptiles initially form a ventricular chamber that homogenously expresses the T-box transcription factor gene Tbx5. In contrast, in birds and mammals, Tbx5 is restricted to left ventricle precursors8,9. In later stages, Tbx5 expression in the turtle (but not anole) heart is gradually restricted to a distinct left ventricle, forming a left-right gradient. This suggests that Tbx5 expression was refined during evolution to pattern the ventricles. In support of this hypothesis, we show that loss of Tbx5 in the mouse ventricle results in a single chamber lacking distinct identity, indicating a requirement for Tbx5 in septation. Importantly, misexpression of Tbx5 throughout the developing myocardium to mimic the reptilian expression pattern also results in a single mispatterned ventricular chamber lacking septation. Thus, ventricular septation is established by a steep and correctly positioned Tbx5 gradient. Our findings provide a molecular mechanism for the evolution of the amniote ventricle, and support the concept that altered expression of developmental regulators is a key mechanism of vertebrate evolution.
Oestradiol application during embryonic development reverses the sex of male embryos and results in normal female differentiation in reptiles lacking heteromorphic sex chromosomes, but fails to do so in birds and mammals with heteromorphic sex chromosomes. It is not clear whether the evolution of heteromorphic sex chromosomes in amniotes is accompanied by insensitivity to oestradiol, or if the association between oestradiol insensitivity and heteromorphic sex chromosomes can be attributable to phylogenetic constraints in these taxa. Turtles provide an ideal system to examine the potential relationship between oestradiol insensitivity and sex chromosome heteromorphy, since there are species with heteromorphic sex chromosomes that are closely related to species lacking heteromorphic sex chromosomes. We investigated this relationship by examining the long-term effects of oestradiol-17β application on sex determination in Staurotypus triporcatus and Staurotypus salvinii, two turtle species with male heterogamety. After raising the turtles in the lab for 3 years, we found follicular and Müllerian duct morphology in oestradiol-treated turtles that was identical to that of untreated females. The lasting sex reversal suggests that the evolutionary transition between systems lacking heteromorphic sex chromosomes and those with heteromorphic sex chromosomes is not constrained by a fundamental mechanistic difference.
sex chromosomes; oestradiol; turtle; Staurotypus; sex determination
Hox genes are known to play a key role in shaping the body plan of metazoans. Evolutionary dynamics of these genes is therefore essential in explaining patterns of evolutionary diversity. Among extant sarcopterygians comprising both lobe-finned fishes and tetrapods, our knowledge of the Hox genes and clusters has largely been restricted in several model organisms such as frogs, birds and mammals. Some evolutionary gaps still exist, especially for those groups with derived body morphology or occupying key positions on the tree of life, hindering our understanding of how Hox gene inventory varied along the sarcopterygian lineage.
We determined the Hox gene inventory for six sarcopterygian groups: lungfishes, caecilians, salamanders, snakes, turtles and crocodiles by comprehensive PCR survey and genome walking. Variable Hox genes in each of the six sarcopterygian group representatives, compared to the human Hox gene inventory, were further validated for their presence/absence by PCR survey in a number of related species representing a broad evolutionary coverage of the group. Turtles, crocodiles, birds and placental mammals possess the same 39 Hox genes. HoxD12 is absent in snakes, amphibians and probably lungfishes. HoxB13 is lost in frogs and caecilians. Lobe-finned fishes, amphibians and squamate reptiles possess HoxC3. HoxC1 is only present in caecilians and lobe-finned fishes. Similar to coelacanths, lungfishes also possess HoxA14, which is only found in lobe-finned fishes to date. Our Hox gene variation data favor the lungfish-tetrapod, turtle-archosaur and frog-salamander relationships and imply that the loss of HoxD12 is not directly related to digit reduction.
Our newly determined Hox inventory data provide a more complete scenario for evolutionary dynamics of Hox genes along the sarcopterygian lineage. Limbless, worm-like caecilians and snakes possess similar Hox gene inventories to animals with less derived body morphology, suggesting changes to their body morphology are likely due to other modifications rather than changes to Hox gene numbers. Furthermore, our results provide basis for future sequencing of the entire Hox clusters of these animals.
Due to the controversy surrounding incipient avian parental care, ancestral parental care systems were reconstructed in a phylogeny including major extant amniote lineages. Using two different resolutions for the basal avian branches, transitions between the states no care, female care, biparental care and male care were inferred for the most basal branches of the tree. Uniparental female care was inferred for the lineage to birds and crocodiles. Using a phylogeny where ratites and tinamous branch off early and an ordered character-state assumption, a transition to biparental care was inferred for the ancestor of birds. This ancestor could be any organism along the lineage leading from the crocodile-bird split up to modern birds, not necessarily the original bird. We discuss the support for alternative avian phylogenies and the homology in parental care between crocodiles and birds. We suggest that the phylogenetic pattern should be used as a starting point for a more detailed analysis of parental care systems in birds and their relatives.