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Keywords:

  • Amphibia;
  • developmental plasticity;
  • habitats;
  • heterochrony;
  • ontogenetic trajectory;
  • paleoecology

The evolution of life cycles forms the subject of numerous studies on extant organisms, but is rarely documented in the fossil record. Here, I analyze patterns of development in time-averaged samples of late Carboniferous and early Permian amphibians, and compare them to paleoecological patterns derived from the same deposits located within a large sedimentary basin (Saar-Nahe, Germany). In 300-297 million years (myr) old Sclerocephalus haeuseri (1–1.7 m), adult size, morphology, and the course of ontogeny varied with respect to the habitats in which the species existed. These differences are best exemplified by ontogenetic trajectories, which reveal a full range of modifications correlating with environmental parameters (lake properties, food resources, competitors). In a 2- to 3-myr-long interval, six different lake habitats were inhabited by this species, which responded to changes by modification of growth rate, adult size, developmental sequence, skeletal features, prey preference, and relative degree of terrestriality.