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Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA

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Morphological features such as size and shape are the most common focus in studies of heterochronic change. Frequently, these easily observed and measured features are treated as a major target of selection, potentially ignoring traits more closely related to fitness. We question the primacy of morphological data in studies of heterochrony, and instead suggest that principal sources of fitness, such as life history characteristics, are not only the chief targets of selection, but changes in them may necessitate changes in other (subordinate) elements of the organism. We use an experimental approach to investigate the timing of metamorphosis and maturation in a facultatively paedomorphic salamander, Ambystoma talpoideum. We determine that individuals possessing the well-known paedomorphic phenotype are peramorphic with regard to maturation, through the process of predisplacement (an earlier onset of maturation). Combining the well studied ecology of dimorphic A. talpoideum populations with theories of heterochronic mechanisms and life history evolution, we conclude that age at maturation is the principal target of selection and that morphological changes are secondary effects. Increased attention to the intimate connection between life history evolution and heterochrony is the most promising route to a better understanding of both.


This is an electronic copy of a paper originally published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, vol. 95. Archived with permission. The author(s) reserves all rights.