Biogeography and ecology of paedomorphosis in Triturus alpestris (Amphibia, Caudata)
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Aim Paedomorphosis is an evolutionary change in which larval structures are retained in adult animals. In newts and salamanders, this heterochronic process is widely represented and concerns the retention of gill slits. We want to find out whether ecological and geographical determinants may be associated with paedomorphosis in the Alpine newt Triturus alpestris. Location Europe. Methods Determination of the main characteristics of all known aquatic sites containing paedomorphic Alpine newt individuals. Results Although metamorphs are common in Europe, paedomorphs are only found at the southern margin of the geographical range of the species: mainly in Italy and in the Balkans. They were recorded in eighty-seven aquatic sites. No single trend was outlined for the analysed ecological parameters of the aquatic and terrestrial habitats (e.g. altitude, maximum water depth, drying and presence of forest). Main conclusions Contrary to the first models of paedomorphosis, the main traits of aquatic and terrestrial habitat do not explain the occurrence of paedomorphs in natural populations. Although they were found in favourable aquatic habitats surrounded by hostile terrestrial landscapes, they also exist in temporary waters located at proximity of appropriate terrestrial environments. These results support models predicting paedomorphosis in varied environments, but require complementary investigations on the costs and benefits of the alternative ontogenetic pathways. On the other hand, the southern limitation of the heterochronic phenomenon suggests a genetic basis for paedomorphosis in the studied species.