Evolutionary radiation of earless frogs in the Andes: molecular phylogenetics and habitat shifts in high-elevation terrestrial breeding frogs

May R, Lehr E, Rabosky DL. PeerJ 6:e4313

The loss of hearing structures and loss of advertisement calls in many terrestrial breeding frogs (Strabomantidae) living at high elevations in South America are common and intriguing phenomena. The Andean frog genus Phrynopus Peters, 1873 has undergone an evolutionary radiation in which most species lack the tympanic membrane and tympanic annulus, yet the phylogenetic relationships among species in this group remain largely unknown. Here, we present an expanded molecular phylogeny of Phrynopusthat includes 24 nominal species. Our phylogeny includes Phrynopus peruanus, the type species of the genus, and 10 other species for which genetic data were previously unavailable. We found strong support for monophyly of Phrynopus, and that two nominal species—Phrynopus curatorand Phrynopus nicoleae—are junior synonyms of Phrynopus tribulosus. Using X-ray computed tomography (CT) imaging, we demonstrate that the absence of external hearing structures is associated with complete loss of the auditory skeletal elements (columella) in at least one member of the genus.