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Rapid evolution to terrestrial life in Jamaican crabs


Crabs of the family Grapsidae are abundant organisms in most intertidal communities. However, relatively few species live in complete independence of the sea1. Of those species that do, Jamaica's nine endemic species of land crabs are unique in their exceptional adaptations to terrestrial life, which include the only active brood-care for larvae and juveniles known in crabs2,3,4,5,6. These adaptations, and the morphological similarity to a group of southeast Asian land-dwelling crabs, have raised the question of the number and age of land invasions of the Jamaican species. Here we present molecular evidence that Jamaican land crabs represent a single adaptive radiation from a marine ancestor that invaded terrestrial habitats only 4 million years (Myr) ago. A Late-Tertiary origin has also been found for lizards and frogs of Jamaica7,8,9 and probably reflects the Mid-Tertiary inundation of that island10.

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Figure 1: Molecular phylogeny of grapsid crabs, subfamily Sesarminae, inferred from an NJ analysis of DNA sequences of two mitochondrial genes, the large subunit (16S) rRNA and the cytochrome oxidase I genes.
Figure 2: Phylogeny and adaptive radiation of the nine terrestrial crabs onJamaica, with estimated times of divergence based on molecular clock calibrations.


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We thank P. K. L. Ng, L. G. Abele and D. L. Felder for specimens; M. Schuh, G.Bäurle, D. Horst, J. A. Cuesta, J. Christy, DBML, STRI and IN.RE.NA.RE for support during collections; M. Frye, S. Kumar, and I. Ruvinsky for methodological advice; S. Kumar for the program PHYLTEST; E. Geißler and A. Beausang for help with figures; and C. A. Hass, S. Kumar, J. Reimer, and Cl.Schubart for comments on the manuscript. This project was funded by the DFG (C.D.S. and R.D.) and NSF (S.B.H.).

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Correspondence to Christoph D. Schubart.

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Schubart, C., Diesel, R. & Hedges, S. Rapid evolution to terrestrial life in Jamaican crabs. Nature 393, 363–365 (1998).

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