19 March, 2010

Troglobitism in scorpions is still not an evolutionary dead-end

Troglobitic and/or troglomorphic species are probably the most fascinating scorpions in the world. Understanding the evolution of troglomorphic characteristics and true troglobites has been the focus of several articles from Oscar Francke, Lorenzo Prendini and Valerio Vignoli.

Further analysis of the taxa in the family Typhlochactidae are now presented in a brand new paper in the journal Cladistics.

The scorpion family Typhlochactidae Mitchell, 1971 is endemic to eastern Mexico and exclusively troglomorphic. Six of the nine species in the family are hypogean (troglobitic), morphologically specialized for life in the cave environment, whereas three are endogean (humicolous) and comparably less specialized. The family therefore provides a model for testing the hypotheses that ecological specialists (stenotopes) evolve from generalist ancestors (eurytopes) and that specialization (in this case to the cavernicolous habitat) is an irreversible, evolutionary dead-end that ultimately leads to extinction. Due to their cryptic ecology, inaccessible habitat, and apparently low population density, Typhlochactidae are very poorly known. The monophyly of these troglomorphic scorpions has never been rigorously tested, nor has their phylogeny been investigated in a quantitative analysis. We test and confirm their monophyly with a cladistic analysis of 195 morphological characters (142 phylogenetically informative), the first for a group of scorpions in which primary homology of pedipalp trichobothria was determined strictly according to topographical identity (the ‘‘placeholder approach’’). The phylogeny of Typhlochactidae challenges the conventional wisdom that ecological specialization (stenotopy) is unidirectional and irreversible, falsifying Cope's Law of the unspecialized and Dollo's Law of evolutionary irreversibility. Troglobitism is not an evolutionary dead-end: endogean scorpions evolved from hypogean ancestors on more than one occasion.

Prendini L, Francke OF, Vignoli V. Troglomorphism, trichobothriotaxy and typhlochactid phylogeny (Scorpiones, Chactoidea): more evidence that troglobitism is not an evolutionary dead-end. Cladistics. 2010 Apr;26(2):117-42. [Subscription required for fulltext]

Family Typhlochactidae

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