Caecilian morphology is strongly modified in association with their fossorial mode of life. Currently phylogenetic analyses of characters drawn from the morphology of caecilians lack resolution, as well as complementarity, with results of phylogenetic analyses that employ molecular data. Stemming from the hypothesis derived from the mammal literature that the braincase has the greatest potential (in comparison to other cranial units) to yield phylogenetic information, the braincase and intimately associated stapes of 27 species (23 genera) of extant caecilians were examined using images assembled via microcomputed tomography. Thirty-four new morphological characters pertaining to the braincase and stapes were identified and tested for congruence with previously recognized morphological characters. The results reveal that when added to previous character matrices, characters of the braincase and stapes resolve generic-level relationships in a way that is largely congruent with the results of molecular analyses. Analysis of a combined data set of molecular and morphological data provides a framework for conducting ancestral character state reconstructions, which resulted in the identification of 95 new synapomorphies for various clades and taxa, 27 of which appear to be unique for the taxa that possess them. Together these data demonstrate the utility of the application of characters of the braincase and stapes for resolving phylogenetic relationships for a group whose morphology is largely confounded by functional modifications. In addition this study provides evidence of the utility of the braincase in resolving problematic morphologybased phylogeny outside of Amniota, in an amphibian group.

, , , ,
Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society
Department of Earth Sciences

Maddin, H, Russell, A.P. (Anthony P.), & Anderson, J.S. (Jason S.). (2012). Phylogenetic implications of the morphology of the braincase of caecilian amphibians (Gymnophiona). Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 166(1), 160–201. doi:10.1111/j.1096-3642.2012.00838.x