Evolution of extreme ontogenetic allometric diversity and heterochrony in pythons, a clade of giant and dwarf snakes

Damien Esquerré, Emma Sherratt, J. Scott Keogh

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    59 Citations (Scopus)

    Abstract

    Ontogenetic allometry, how species change with size through their lives, and heterochony, a decoupling between shape, size, and age, are major contributors to biological diversity. However, macroevolutionary allometric and heterochronic trends remain poorly understood because previous studies have focused on small groups of closely related species. Here, we focus on testing hypotheses about the evolution of allometry and how allometry and heterochrony drive morphological diversification at the level of an entire species-rich and diverse clade. Pythons are a useful system due to their remarkably diverse and well-adapted phenotypes and extreme size disparity. We collected detailed phenotype data on 40 of the 44 species of python from 1191 specimens. We used a suite of analyses to test for shifts in allometric trajectories that modify morphological diversity. Heterochrony is the main driver of initial divergence within python clades, and shifts in the slopes of allometric trajectories make exploration of novel phenotypes possible later in divergence history. We found that allometric coefficients are highly evolvable and there is an association between ontogenetic allometry and ecology, suggesting that allometry is both labile and adaptive rather than a constraint on possible phenotypes.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)2829-2844
    Number of pages16
    JournalEvolution
    Volume71
    Issue number12
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2017

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