Vaglia, JL., White, K, and Case, A. 2012. Evolving possibilities: postembryonic axial elongation in salamanders with biphasic (Eurcyea cirrigera, Eurycea longicauda, Eurycea quadridigitata) and paedomorphic life cycles (Eurycea nana and Ambystoma mexicanum). —Acta Zoologica (Stockholm) 93: 2–13.
Typically, the number of vertebrae an organism will have postembryonically is determined during embryogenesis via the development of paired somites. Our research investigates the phenomenon of postembryonic vertebral addition in salamander tails. We describe body and tail growth and patterns of postsacral vertebral addition and elongation in context with caudal morphology for four plethodontids (Eurycea) and one ambystomatid. Eurycea nana and Ambystoma mexicanum have paedomorphic life cycles; Eurcyea cirrigera, Eurycea longicauda and Eurycea quadridigitata are biphasic. Specimens were collected, borrowed and/or purchased, and cleared and stained for bone and cartilage. Data collected include snout-vent length (SVL), tail length (TL), vertebral counts and centrum lengths. Eurycea species with biphasic life cycles had TLs that surpassed SVL following metamorphosis. Tails in paedomorphic species elongated but rarely exceeded body length. Larger TLs were associated with more vertebrae and longer vertebrae in all species. We observed that rates of postsacral vertebral addition varied little amongst species. Regional variation along the tail becomes prominent following metamorphosis in biphasic developers. In all species, vertebrae in the posterior one-half of the tail taper towards the tip. We suggest that a developmental link might exist between the ability to continually add vertebrae and regeneration in salamanders.