Digit evolution in gymnophthalmid lizards

Digit evolution in gymnophthalmid lizards
Juliana Roscito, Pedro M. S. Nunes, Miguel T Rodrigues
doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1101/013953

Background The tetrapod limb is a highly diverse structure, and reduction of the limbs accounts for much of the phenotypes observed within species. Squamate reptiles represent one of the many lineages in which the limbs have been greatly modified from the pentadactyl generalized pattern; within the group, limb-reduced morphologies can vary from minor reductions in size of elements to complete limblessness, with several intermediate forms in between. Even though limb reduction is widespread, it is not clear what are the evolutionary and developmental mechanisms involved in the formation of reduced limb morphologies. Methods In this study, we present an overview of limb morphology within the microteiid lizard group Gymnophthalmidae, focusing on digit number. Results We show that there are two major groups of limb-reduced gymnophthalmids. The first group is formed by lizard-like – and frequently pentadactyl – species, in which minor reductions (such as the loss of 1-2 phalanges mainly in digits I and V) are the rule; these morphologies generally correspond to those seen in other squamates. The second group is formed by species showing more drastic losses, which can include the absence of an externally distinct limb in adults. We also show the expression patterns of Sonic Hedgehog (Shh) in the greatly reduced fore and hindlimb of a serpentiform gymnophthalmid. Conclusions Our discussion focus on identifying shared patterns of limb reduction among tetrapods, and explaining these patterns and the morphological variation within the gymnophthalmids based on the current knowledge of the molecular signaling pathways that coordinate limb development.

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