Evolution of Viviparity in Salamanders (Amphibia, Caudata)


Reproductive modes in salamanders (Amphibia, Caudata) are highly diverse. Viviparity, for instance, implies the retention of the developing embryos inside the females until the end of the gestation, at which point they deliver fully developed terrestrial juveniles. From an ecological point of view, the evolution of viviparity is highly significant, since it implies the semiā€independence of water for an amphibian. Nevertheless, viviparity is not very common among salamander. It has independently evolved only in a few species, all included within the family Salamandridae. Furthermore, the characteristics of viviparous strategies are different among species, although they all share some commonalities. The detailed study of these particular and common features in a phylogenetic context will reveal the genetic, physiological, developmental, morphological and historic factors that have triggered the evolution of this peculiar mode of reproduction in only one lineage among all the species of salamanders.

Key Concepts:

  • Viviparity entails the complete development of the progeny within the mother's genital tract, together with the maternal provisioning of nutrients to the embryos.

  • Since development occurs within the females, viviparity in amphibians implies that the aquatic phase of the standard amphibian life cycle is obviated in viviparous species.

  • Viviparity has independently evolved only in a few species of salamanders.

Keywords: development; embryology; evolution; larvae; life history; metamorphosis; phylogeny; reproduction

Figure 1.

Simplified phylogeny of salamander families based on molecular data from Zhang and Wake and Pyron and Wiens . Clade A, in blue, highlights the seven families presenting internal fertilisation.

Figure 2.

Phylogenetic relationships among species within the family Salamandridae, based on data from Weisrock et al. and Zhang et al.. The clade ‘Newts’ includes 71 species of highly aquatic organisms, forming a sister clade to the so‐called ‘true’ salamanders. The relationships among the ‘true’ salamanders, together with their reproductive modes, are depicted in the figure: black, oviparity; yellow, ovoviviparity; red: viviparity. The red stars designate ovoviviparous species in which viviparity has evolved in some populations or subspecies.



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Buckley, David(Apr 2012) Evolution of Viviparity in Salamanders (Amphibia, Caudata). In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0022851]