A stem batrachian from the Early Permian of Texas and the origin of frogs and salamanders

Abstract

The origin of extant amphibians (Lissamphibia: frogs, salamanders and caecilians) is one of the most controversial questions in vertebrate evolution, owing to large morphological and temporal gaps in the fossil record1,2,3. Current discussions focus on three competing hypotheses: a monophyletic origin within either Temnospondyli4,5,6,7 or Lepospondyli8,9,10, or a polyphyletic origin with frogs and salamanders arising among temnospondyls and caecilians among the lepospondyls11,12,13,14,15,16. Recent molecular analyses are also controversial, with estimations for the batrachian (frog–salamander) divergence significantly older than the palaeontological evidence supports17,18. Here we report the discovery of an amphibamid temnospondyl from the Early Permian of Texas that bridges the gap between other Palaeozoic amphibians and the earliest known salientians19,20 and caudatans21 from the Mesozoic. The presence of a mosaic of salientian and caudatan characters in this small fossil makes it a key taxon close to the batrachian (frog and salamander) divergence. Phylogenetic analysis suggests that the batrachian divergence occurred in the Middle Permian, rather than the late Carboniferous as recently estimated using molecular clocks18,22, but the divergence with caecilians corresponds to the deep split between temnospondyls and lepospondyls, which is congruent with the molecular estimates.

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Figure 1: Gerobatrachus hottoni , gen. et sp. nov., holotype specimen USNM 489135.
Figure 2: Gerobatrachus hottoni , gen. et sp. nov., holotype specimen USNM 489135.
Figure 3: Gerobatrachus hottoni , gen. et sp. nov., holotype specimen USNM 489135.
Figure 4: Majority rule consensus tree of 131 most parsimonious trees.

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Acknowledgements

We thank M. Carrano, D. Chaney, B. DiMichele and P. Kroehler of the USNM for information and photographs of the discovery locality and for access to the specimen. E. Rega transported the specimen from Washington DC to Los Angeles. We thank P. Janvier and le Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris for support while one of us (J.S.A.) studied the holotype of Triadobatrachus. The research was further supported by Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada Discovery Grants to R.R.R. and J.S.A.

Author Contributions J.S.A. contributed to project planning, figure preparation, anatomical analysis, phylogenetic analysis, manuscript preparation and financial support for study; R.R.R. to phylogenetic analysis, manuscript preparation and financial support; D.S. to specimen preparation, figure preparation, anatomical analysis and manuscript preparation; N.B.F. to anatomical analysis, phylogenetic analysis and manuscript preparation; and S.S.S. to project initiation and manuscript preparation.

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Correspondence to Jason S. Anderson.

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Anderson, J., Reisz, R., Scott, D. et al. A stem batrachian from the Early Permian of Texas and the origin of frogs and salamanders. Nature 453, 515–518 (2008) doi:10.1038/nature06865

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