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Abstract

The monophyly of European newts of the genus Triturus within the family Salamandridae has for decades rested on presumably homologous behavioral and morphological characters. Molecular data challenge this hypothesis, but the phylogenetic position of Triturus within the Salamandridae has not yet been convincingly resolved. We addressed this issue and the temporal divergence of Triturus within the Salamandridae with novel Bayesian approaches applied to DNA sequence data from three mitochondrial genes (12S, 16S and cytb). We included 38 salamandrid species comprising all 13 recognized species of Triturus and 16 out of 17 salamandrid genera. A clade comprising all the “Newts” can be separated from the “True Salamanders” and Salamandrina clades. Within the “Newts” well-supported clades are: TylototritonPleurodeles, the “New World Newts” (NotophthalmusTaricha), and the “Modern Eurasian Newts” (Cynops, Pachytriton, Paramesotriton=together the “Modern Asian Newts”, Calotriton, Euproctus, Neurergus and Triturus species). We found that Triturus is a non-monophyletic species assemblage, which includes four groups that are themselves monophyletic: (i) the “Large-Bodied Triturus” (six species), (ii) the “Small-Bodied Triturus” (five species), (iii) T. alpestris and (iv) T. vittatus. We estimated that the last common ancestor of Triturus existed around 64 million years ago (mya) while the root of the Salamandridae dates back to 95 mya. This was estimated using a fossil-based molecular dating approach and an explicit framework to select calibration points that least underestimated their corresponding nodes. Using the molecular phylogeny we mapped the evolution of life history and courtship traits in Triturus and found that several Triturus-specific courtship traits evolved independently. J. Exp. Zool. (Mol. Dev. Evol.) 306B, 2006. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.