Molecular phylogenetics of the Anolis onca series: A case history in retrograde evolution revisited

Kirsten E. Nicholson, Abraham Mijares-Urrutia, Allan Larson

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15 Scopus citations


Anoles of the Anolis onca series represent a dramatic case of retrograde evolution, exhibiting great reduction (A. annectens) and loss (A. onca) of the subdigital pads considered a key innovation for the evolutionary radiation of anoles in arboreal environments. We present a molecular phylogenetic analysis of these anoles and their closest known relatives (A. auratus, A. lineatus, A. meridionalis, and A. nitens) using new mitochondrial DNA sequence data from the ND2 gene, five tRNA genes (tRNATrp, tRNAAla, tRNA Asn, tRNACys, tRNATyr), the origin of light-strand replication, and a portion of the CO1 gene (1,446 aligned base positions, 612 parsimony informative). Our results confirm monophyly of the A. onca series and suggest an evolutionary separation of approximately 10 million years between A. annectens and A. onca. Evolution of subdigital structure in this series illustrates ectopic expression of developmental programs that replace flexible subdigital lamellae of the toepad with rigid, keeled scales resembling dorsal digital scales. Our phylogenetic results indicate that narrowing of the toepad in A. auratus evolved separately from toepad reduction in the A. onca series. Expansion of the subdigital lamellae along the phalanges in A. auratus appears to compensate constriction of lamellae by digital narrowing, maintaining greater climbing capability in this species. Toepad evolution in the lineage ancestral to A. auratus features changes of the same developmental modules as the A. onca series but in the opposite direction. Large molecular distances between geographic populations of A. auratus indicate that its derived toepad structure is at least 9 million years old.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)450-459
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Experimental Zoology Part B: Molecular and Developmental Evolution
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 15 2006


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