DATES, NODES AND CHARACTER CONFLICT: ADDRESSING THE LISSAMPHIBIAN ORIGIN PROBLEM
Extant amphibians consist of Salientia (frogs), Caudata (salamanders), and Gymnophiona (caecilians). The mutual relationships of these groups are controversial, with either Batrachia (Salientia + Caudata) or Procera (Gymnophiona + Caudata) as emerging clades in recent molecular and morphological analyses. The monophyly of amphibians as a whole is supported by independent data, but their origins and affinities with early tetrapods are debated. A new cladistic analysis of early tetrapods retrieves Temnospondyli (the most species-rich group of early tetrapods) as the closest relatives of crown group amphibians. One temnospondyl group, the Dissorophoidea, forms a series of consecutive outgroups to crown amphibians. In particular, the Lower Permian amphibamid Doleserpeton is the most derived plesion on the amphibian stem. The Albanerpetontidae, a group of salamander-like tetrapods ranging from the Jurassic to the Pliocene, are placed as stem Gymnophiona. The shortest trees support the Batrachia hypothesis. However, the Procera hypothesis is not a significantly worse fit for the whole character set. Exhaustive treatment of characters and taxa is the most appropriate way to disentangle contrasting phylogenetic signals in large matrices. Tests of different crown topologies show that placement of amphibians within lepospondyls (e.g. as sister taxon to Lysorophia) is not a significantly worse fit for the whole character set than a close temnospondyl–lissamphibian relationship. However, the latter phylogenetic hypothesis best captures the most coherent assembly of derived lissamphibian apomorphies.
Key Words: Tetrapoda; Lissamphibia; Batrachia; Procera; Temnospondyli; Lepospondyli.
p1 Current address: Department of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol, Wills Memorial Building, Queen's Road, Bristol, B58 IRJ, UK