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Abstract

Oviductal retention of developing embryos, with provision for maternal nutrition after yolk is exhausted (viviparity) and maintenance through metamorphosis, has evolved independently in each of the three living orders of amphibians, the Anura (frogs and toads), the Urodela (salamanders and newts), and the Gymnophiona (caecilians). In anurans and urodeles obligate viviparity is very rare (less than 1% of species); a few additional species retain the developing young, but nutrition is yolk-dependent (ovoviviparity) and, at least in salamanders, the young may be born before metamorphosis is complete. However, in caecilians probably the majority of the approximately 170 species are viviparous, and none are ovoviviparous. All of the amphibians that retain their young oviductally practice internal fertilization; the mechanism is cloacal apposition in frogs, spermatophore reception in salamanders, and intromission in caecilians. Internal fertilization is a necessary but not sufficient exaptation (sensu Gould and Vrba: Paleobiology 8:4–15, '82) for viviparity. The salamanders and all but one of the frogs that are oviductal developers live at high altitudes and are subject to rigorous climatic variables; hence, it has been suggested that cold might be a “selection pressure” for the evolution of egg retention. However, one frog and all the live-bearing caecilians are tropical low to middle elevation inhabitants, so factors other than cold are implicated in the evolution of live-bearing. Viviparity might facilitate life in a rigorous environment, but likely is not “caused” by such an existence. © 1993 Wiley-Liss, Inc.