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Keywords:

  • Amphibians;
  • clutch size;
  • development;
  • egg size;
  • life history;
  • parental care

Understanding phenotypic diversity requires not only identification of selective factors that favor origins of derived states, but also factors that favor retention of primitive states. Anurans (frogs and toads) exhibit a remarkable diversity of reproductive modes that is unique among terrestrial vertebrates. Here, we analyze the evolution of these modes, using comparative methods on a phylogeny and matched life-history database of 720 species, including most families and modes. As expected, modes with terrestrial eggs and aquatic larvae often precede direct development (terrestrial egg, no tadpole stage), but surprisingly, direct development evolves directly from aquatic breeding nearly as often. Modes with primitive exotrophic larvae (feeding outside the egg) frequently give rise to direct developers, whereas those with nonfeeding larvae (endotrophic) do not. Similarly, modes with eggs and larvae placed in locations protected from aquatic predators evolve frequently but rarely give rise to direct developers. Thus, frogs frequently bypass many seemingly intermediate stages in the evolution of direct development. We also find significant associations between terrestrial reproduction and reduced clutch size, larger egg size, reduced adult size, parental care, and occurrence in wetter and warmer regions. These associations may help explain the widespread retention of aquatic eggs and larvae, and the overall diversity of anuran reproductive modes.