“Many paths to a common destination: morphological differentiation of a functionally convergent visual signal”

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Mattias Hagman and Terry Ord

Throat morphology of iguanid and agamid lizards. Example dewlaps (A) as found in the Jamaican iguanid Anolis lineatopus (photo credit: Jonathan Losos), Indian agamid Sitana ponticeriana (photo credit: Ambika Kamath), and Malaysian agamid Draco melanopogon (photo credit: Terry Ord).


Understanding the interacting outcomes of selection and historical contingency in shaping adaptive evolution remains a challenge in evolutionary biology. While selection can produce convergent outcomes when species occupy similar environments, the unique history of each species can also influence evolutionary trajectories and result in different phenotypic endpoints. The question is to what extent historical contingency places species on different adaptive pathways and, in turn, the extent to which we can predict evolutionary outcomes. Among lizards there are several distantly related genera that have independently evolved an elaborate extendible dewlap for territorial communication. We conducted a detailed morphological study and employed new phylogenetic comparative methods to investigate the evolution of the underlying hyoid that powers the extension of the dewlap. This analysis showed that there appear to have been multiple phenotypic pathways for evolving a functionally convergent dewlap. The biomechanical complexity that underlies this morphological structure implies that adaptation should have been constrained to a narrow phenotypic pathway. However, multiple adaptive solutions have been possible in apparent response to a common selection pressure. Thus, the phenotypic outcome that subsequently evolved in different genera seems to have been contingent on the history of the group in question. This blurs the distinction between convergent and historically contingent adaptation and suggests that adaptive phenotypic diversity can evolve without the need for divergent natural selection.