Facultative paedomorphosis and the pattern of intra- and interspecific variation in cranial skeleton: lessons from European newts (Ichthyosaura alpestris and Lissotriton vulgaris)
Paedomorphosis, the presence of ancestral larval and juvenile traits that occur at the descendent adult stage, is an evolutionary phenomenon that shaped morphological evolution in many vertebrate lineages, including tailed amphibians. Among salamandrid species, paedomorphic and metamorphic phenotypes can be observed within single populations (facultative paedomorphosis). Despite wide interest in facultative paedomorphosis and polymorphism produced by heterochronic changes (heterochronic polymorphism), the studies that investigate intraspecific morphological variation in facultative paedomorphic species are largely missing. By quantifying the cranium size and development (bone development and remodeling), we investigated the variation at multiple levels (i.e., between sexes, populations and species) of two facultatively paedomorphic European newt species: the alpine and the smooth newt. The pattern of variation between paedomorphs (individuals keeping larval traits at the adult stage) and metamorphs (metamorphosed adult individuals) varied between species and among populations within a single species. The patterns of variation in size and skull formation appear to be more uniform in the alpine than in the smooth newt, indicating that developmental constraints differed between species (more pronounced in alpine than in smooth newt). Our study shows that the cranial skeleton provides detailed insight in the pattern of variation and divergence in heterochronic polymorphism within and between species and open new questions related to heterochronic polymorphism and evolution of cranial skeleton.