Oxford University Press
Integrative and Comparative Biology
Recently-developed, molecularly-based phylogenies of geckos have provided the basis for reassessing the number of times adhesive toe-pads have arisen within the Gekkota. At present both a single origin and multiple origin hypotheses prevail, each of which has consequences that relate to explanations about digit form and evolutionary transitions underlying the enormous variation in adhesive toe pad structure among extant, limbed geckos (pygopods lack pertinent features). These competing hypotheses result from mapping the distribution of toe pads onto a phylogenetic framework employing the simple binary expedient of whether such toe pads are present or absent. It is evident, however, that adhesive toe pads are functional complexes that consist of a suite of integrated structural components that interact to bring about adhesive contact with the substratum and release from it. We evaluated the competing hypotheses about toe pad origins using 34 features associated with digit structure (drawn from the overall form of the digits; the presence and form of adhesive scansors; the proportions and structure of the phalanges; aspects of digital muscular and tendon morphology; presence and form of paraphalangeal elements; and the presence and form of substrate compliance-enhancing structures). We mapped these onto a well-supported phylogeny to reconstruct their evolution. Nineteen of these characters proved to be informative for all extant, limbed geckos, allowing us to assess which of them exhibit co-occurrence and/or clade-specificity. We found the absence of adhesive toe pads to be the ancestral state for the extant Gekkota as a whole, and our data to be consistent with independent origins of adhesive toe pads in the Diplodactylidae, Sphaerodactylidae, Phyllodactylidae, and Gekkonidae, with a strong likelihood of multiple origins in the latter three families. These findings are consistent with recently-published evidence of the presence of adhesively-competent digits in geckos generally regarded as lacking toe pads. Based upon morphology we identify other taxa at various locations within the gekkotan tree that are promising candidates for the expression of the early phases of adhesively-assisted locomotion. Investigation of functionally transitional forms will be valuable for enhancing our understanding of what is necessary and sufficient for the transition to adhesively-assisted locomotion, and for those whose objectives are to develop simulacra of the gekkotan adhesive system for biotechnological applications.
Russell, Anthony P. and Gamble, Tony, "Evolution of the Gekkotan Adhesive System: Does Digit Anatomy Point to One or More Origins?" (2019). Biological Sciences Faculty Research and Publications. 760.
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