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Phylogenetic analysis of Mexican cave scorpions suggests adaptation to caves is reversable
Date:3/12/2010

Blind scorpions that live in the stygian depths of caves are throwing light on a long-held assumption that specialized adaptations are irreversible evolutionary dead-ends. According to a new phylogenetic analysis of the family Typhlochactidae, scorpions currently living closer to the surface (under stones and in leaf litter) evolved independently on more than one occasion from ancestors adapted to life further below the surface (in caves). The research, currently available in an early online edition, will be published in the April issue of Cladistics.

"Our research shows that the evolution of troglobites, or animals adapted for life in caves, is reversible," says Lorenzo Prendini, Associate Curator in the Division of Invertebrate Zoology at the American Museum of Natural History. "Three more generalized scorpion species living closer to the surface evolved from specialized ancestors living in caves deep below the surface."

Scorpions are predatory, venomous, nocturnal arachnids that are related to spiders, mites, and other arthropods. About 2,000 species are distributed throughout the world, but only 23 species found in ten different families are adapted to a permanent life in caves. These are the specialized troglobites.

This study concentrates on the family Typhlochactidae that includes nine species of scorpions endemic to the karstic regions of eastern Mexico. These species were initially grouped together by Robert Mitchell in 1971 but were elevated to the rank of family for the first time last year, based on morphological data published by Prendini and Valerio Vignoli of the Department of Evolutionary Biology, University of Siena, Italy, in the Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History. Prendini, Vignoli, and Oscar F. Francke of the Departmento de Zoologia, Instituto de Biologa at the Universidad Nacional Autnoma de Mxico, Mexico City, also created a new genus, Stygochactas, for one species in the fa
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Contact: Kristin Elise Phillips
kphillips@amnh.org
212-496-3419
American Museum of Natural History
Source:Eurekalert  

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