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Evolutionary genetics of metamorphic failure using wild-caught vs. laboratory axolotls (Ambystoma mexicanum)


Randal Voss. Fax: +1 970 491 0649;


In many organisms metamorphosis allows for an ecologically important habitat-shift from water to land. However, in some salamanders an adaptive life cycle mode has evolved that is characterized by metamorphic failure (paedomorphosis); these species remain in the aquatic habitat throughout the life cycle. Perhaps the most famous example of metamorphic failure is the Mexican axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum), which has become a focal species for developmental biology since it was introduced into laboratory culture in the 1800s. Our previous genetic linkage mapping analysis, using an interspecific crossing design, demonstrated that a major gene effect underlies the expression of metamorphic failure in laboratory stocks of the Mexican axolotl. Here, we repeated this experiment using A. mexicanum that were sampled directly from their natural habitat at Lake Xochimilco, Mexico. We found no significant association between the major gene and metamorphic failure when wild-caught axolotls were used in the experimental design, although there is evidence of a smaller genetic effect. Thus, there appears to be genetic variation among Mexican axolotls (and possibly A. tigrinum tigrinum) at loci that contribute to metamorphic failure. This result suggests a role for more than one mutation and possibly artificial selection in the evolution of the major gene effect in the laboratory Mexican axolotl.