Evolution of form and function: morphophysiological relationships and locomotor performance in tropidurine lizards



Tiana Kohlsdorf, Department of Biology, FFCLRP, University of Sao Paulo, Avenida Bandeirantes, 3900, Bairro Monte Alegre, Ribeirao Preto, Sao Paulo 14040-901, Brazil.

Email: tiana@usp.br


Locomotor capacity is often considered an excellent measure of whole animal performance because it requires the integrated functioning of many morphological, physiological (and biochemical) traits. However, because studies tend to focus on either structural or functional suits of traits, we know little on whether and how morphological and physiological traits coevolve to produce adequate locomotor capacities. Hence, we investigate the evolutionary relationships between morphological and physiological parameters related to exercise physiology, using tropidurine lizards as a model. We employ a phylogenetic principal component analysis (PCA) to identify variable clusters (factors) related to morphology, energetic metabolism and muscle metabolism, and then analyze the relationships between these clusters and measures of locomotor performance, using two models (star and hierarchical phylogenies). Our data indicate that sprint performance is enhanced by simultaneous evolutionary tendencies affecting relative limb and tail size and physiological traits. Specifically, the high absolute sprint speeds exhibited by tropidurines from the sand dunes are explained by longer limbs, feet and tails and an increased proportion of glycolytic fibers in the leg muscle, contrasting with their lower capacity for overall oxidative metabolism [principal component (PC1)]. However, when sprint speeds are corrected for body size, performance correlates with a cluster (PC3) composed by moderate loads for activity metabolic rate and body size. The simultaneous measurement of morphological and physiological parameters is a powerful tool for exploring patterns of coadaptation and proposing morphophysiological associations that are not directly predictable from theory. This approach may trigger novel directions for investigating the evolution of form and function, particularly in the context of organismal performance.