Transcriptomic and macroevolutionary evidence for phenotypic uncoupling between frog life history phases
Anuran amphibians undergo major morphological transitions during development, but the contribution of their markedly different life-history phases to macroevolution has rarely been analysed. Here we generate testable predictions for coupling versus uncoupling of phenotypic evolution of tadpole and adult life-history phases, and for the underlying expression of genes related to morphological feature formation. We test these predictions by combining evidence from gene expression in two distantly related frogs, Xenopus laevis and Mantidactylus betsileanus, with patterns of morphological evolution in the entire radiation of Madagascan mantellid frogs. Genes linked to morphological structure formation are expressed in a highly phase-specific pattern, suggesting uncoupling of phenotypic evolution across life-history phases. This gene expression pattern agrees with uncoupled rates of trait evolution among life-history phases in the mantellids, which we show to have undergone an adaptive radiation. Our results validate a prevalence of uncoupling in the evolution of tadpole and adult phenotypes of frogs.