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An evolutionary perspective on gecko adhesion was previously hampered by a lack of an explicit phylogeny for the group and of robust comparative methods to study trait evolution, an underappreciation for the taxonomic and structural diversity of geckos, and a dearth of fossil evidence bearing directly on the origin of the scansorial apparatus. With a multigene dataset as the basis for a comprehensive gekkotan phylogeny, model-based methods have recently been employed to estimate the number of unique derivations of the adhesive system and its role in lineage diversification. Evidence points to a single basal origin of the spinulate oberhautchen layer of the epidermis, which is a necessary precursor for the subsequent elaboration of a functional adhesive mechanism in geckos. However, multiple gains and losses are implicated for the elaborated setae that are necessary for adhesion via van der Waals forces. The well-supported phylogeny of gekkotans has demonstrated that convergence and parallelism in digital design are even more prevalent than previously believed. It also permits the reexamination of previously collected morphological data in an explicitly evolutionary context. Both time-calibrated trees and recently discovered amber fossils that preserve gecko toepads suggest that a fully-functional adhesive apparatus was not only present, but represented by diverse architectures, by the mid-Cretaceous. Further characterization and phylogenetically-informed analyses of the other components of the adhesive system (muscles, tendons, blood sinuses, etc.) will permit a more comprehensive reconstruction of the evolutionary pathway(s) by which geckos have achieved their structural and taxonomic diversity. A phylogenetic perspective can meaningfully inform functional and performance studies of gecko adhesion and locomotion and can contribute to advances in bioinspired materials.
This article was published in the following journal.
Name: Integrative and comparative biology
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