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Ecological associations among epidermal microstructure and scale characteristics of Australian geckos (Squamata: Carphodactylidae and Diplodactylidae)
journal contributionposted on 17.05.2022, 23:05 authored by Jendrian Riedel, Matthew J Vucko, Simone P Blomberg, Simon RobsonSimon Robson, Lin Schwarzkopf
A first step in examining factors influencing trait evolution is demonstrating associations between traits and environmental factors. Scale microstructure is a well-studied feature of squamate reptiles (Squamata), including geckos, but few studies examine ecology the of microstructures, and those focus mainly on toe pads. In this study, the ecomorphology of cutaneous microstructures on the dorsum was described for eight Australian species of carphodactylid (Squamata: Carphodactylidae) and 19 diplodactylid (Squamata: Diplodactylidae) geckos. We examined scale dimensions, spinule and cutaneous sensilla (CS) morphology, using scanning electron microscopy, and described associations of these traits with microhabitat selection (arboreal, saxicoline or terrestrial) and relative humidity of each species’ habitat (xeric, mesic or humid). We used a phylogenetic flexible discriminant analysis (pFDA) to describe relationships among all traits and then a modeling approach to examine each trait individually. Our analysis showed that terrestrial species tended to have long spinules and CS with more bristles, saxicoline species larger diameter CS and arboreal species tended to have large granule scales and small intergranule scales. There was high overlap in cutaneous microstructural morphology among species from xeric and mesic environments, whereas species from humid environments had large diameter CS and few bristles. Significant associations between epidermal morphology and environmental humidity and habitat suggest that epidermal microstructures have evolved in response to environmental variables. In summary, long spinules, which aid self-cleaning in terrestrial geckos, are consistent with greater exposure to dirt and debris in this habitat. Long spinules were not clearly correlated to environmental humidity. Finally, more complex CS (larger diameter with more bristles) may facilitate better perception of environmental variation in geckos living in drier habitats.