• evolution;
  • morphology;
  • bones;
  • lungless salamanders;
  • hyobranchial apparatus


The recent discovery of a plethodontid salamander, Karsenia koreana, in Korea challenged our understanding of the biogeographic history of the family Plethodontidae, by far the largest family of salamanders, which otherwise is distributed in the New World with a few European species. Molecular studies suggest that Karsenia forms a clade with Hydromantes (sensu lato), which includes among its species the only other Old World plethodontids. We studied the skull of K. koreana and compared it with that of other plethodontid genera, especially members of the subfamily Plethodontinae, which it resembles most closely in general anatomy. The anatomy of its skull corresponds to the most generalized and apparently ancestral condition for plethodontids. No clearly autapomorphic states were detected, and no synapomorphies can be found that would link it to other genera. The Karsenia skull is cylindrical and well ossified, giving an impression of strength. In contrast, the skull of Hydromantes is highly derived; the skull is flattened and the bones are weakly ossified and articulated. Hydromantes and Karsenia share no unique anatomical features; differences between them are especially evident in the hyobranchial skeleton, which is generalized in Karsenia but highly modified in Hydromantes, which is well known for its highly projectile tongue. Plethodon and Plethodon-like species, including Karsenia and to a lesser degree Ensatina, represent the more generalized and apparently ancestral plethodontid morphology. Specialized morphologies have evolved along only a few morphological axes within the Plethodontidae, resulting in a pattern of rampant homoplasy. Our analysis of the anatomy of the new Asiatic lineage illuminates some potential mechanisms underlying adaptive morphological evolution within the Plethodontidae. J. Morphol. 2010. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.