Re-evolution of lost mandibular teeth in frogs after more than 200 million years, and re-evaluating dollo's law

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101 Scopus citations


Dollo's law states that structures that are evolutionarily lost will not be regained. Recent phylogenetic studies have revealed several potential examples in which Dollo's law seems to be violated, where lost structures appear to have been regained over evolutionary time. However, these examples have recently been questioned and suggested to be methodological artifacts. In this article, I document a striking and incontrovertible phylogenetic example of the re-evolution of a lost, complex structure: mandibular teeth in the frog genus Gastrotheca. I use a time-calibrated phylogeny for 170 amphibian species to show that mandibular teeth were lost in the ancestor of modern frogs at least 230 million years ago (Mya) and have been regained in the last ~5-17 My. I review recent studies on trait re-evolution and show that this long period of trait absence prior to re-acquisition is largely unprecedented. I also argue that there are several methodological issues that may cause trait re-evolution to be hardest to detect under those conditions when it is most likely to occur, leading to erroneous failures to reject Dollo's law. Finally, I discuss a mechanism that may facilitate trait re-evolution, and the evolution of mandibular teeth in frogs as an example of developmental constraint.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1283-1296
Number of pages14
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Amphibians
  • Developmental constraint
  • Dollo's law
  • Morphology
  • Phylogeny

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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