Vertebrate land invasions-past, present, and future: an introduction to the symposium

Integr Comp Biol. 2013 Aug;53(2):192-6. doi: 10.1093/icb/ict048. Epub 2013 May 9.


The transition from aquatic to terrestrial habitats was a seminal event in vertebrate evolution because it precipitated a sudden radiation of species as new land animals diversified in response to novel physical and biological conditions. However, the first stages of this environmental transition presented numerous challenges to ancestrally aquatic organisms, and necessitated changes in the morphological and physiological mechanisms that underlie most life processes, among them movement, feeding, respiration, and reproduction. How did solutions to these functional challenges evolve? One approach to this question is to examine modern vertebrate species that face analogous demands; just as the first tetrapods lived at the margins of bodies of water and likely moved between water and land regularly, many extant fishes and amphibians use their body systems in both aquatic and terrestrial habitats on a daily basis. Thus, studies of amphibious vertebrates elucidate the functional demands of two very different habitats and clarify our understanding of the initial evolutionary challenges of moving onto land. A complementary approach is to use studies of the fossil record and comparative development to gain new perspectives on form and function of modern amphibious and non-amphibious vertebrate taxa. Based on the synthetic approaches presented in the symposium, it is clear that our understanding of aquatic-to-terrestrial transitions is greatly improved by the reciprocal integration of paleontological and neontological perspectives. In addition, common themes and new insights that emerged from this symposium point to the value of innovative approaches, new model species, and cutting-edge research techniques to elucidate the functional challenges and evolutionary changes associated with vertebrates' invasion of the land.

Publication types

  • Introductory Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Amphibians / physiology
  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Ecosystem*
  • Fishes / physiology
  • Fossils
  • Humans
  • Vertebrates / physiology*