What do broad phylogenetic patterns in organismal traits tell us about the mechanisms, history and drivers of evolutionary change? This question outlines a theme that our lab addresses through study of repeated patterns in organismal lineages. This approach extends the concept of “model organism,” along a new axis, the “model clade.” Put another way, studies using phylogeny are essential to a full understanding of organismal evolution.

Projects in the lab are wide-ranging but linked by this model clade perspective. Past research by lab members includes phylogenetic estimation from diverse datasets, strategies for taxon sampling, ontogeny and morphological diversification, evolution of communication systems, and functional aspects of feeding in snakes and gliding in lizards.

Recently, most students and postdocs have worked on amphibians, mainly frogs. Research on frogs is certainly not a requirement. In practical terms, these projects involve DNA sequencing, fieldwork in wild and exciting places, recording calls of frogs, morphological studies of bones and muscles, and photographing amphibians.

Current projects by present and recently graduated students include

  • Mimicry, diet specialization, and origins of defense in Poison Frogs (Dendrobatidae)
  • Systematics and biodiversity in the Neotropics, especially the Andes, Brazilian Cerrado, and Amazonian lowlands
  • Evolution of acoustic communication in frogs
  • Phylogenomics of amphibians
  • Timetree calibrations based on frog fossils
  • Population genetics of spring- and cave-dwelling salamanders (Eurycea)
  • Phylogeography of South American frogs using SNPs
  • Evolutionary patterns in morphological traits


Publications 2011-2016

Tarvin, R. D., J. C. Santos, L. A. O’Connell, H. H. Zakon, and D. C. Cannatella. 2016. Convergent substitutions in a sodium channel suggest multiple origins of toxin resistance in poison frogs. Molecular Biology and Evolution 33:1068–1081. pdf

Yuan, Z-Y., W.-W. Zhou, X. Chen, N. A. Poyarkov Jr, H.-M. Chen, N.-H. Jang-Liaw, W.-H. Chou, N. J. Matzke, K. Iizuka, M.-S. Min, S. L. Kuzmin, Y.-P. Zhang, and D. C. Cannatella, D. M. Hillis, and J. Che. 2016. Spatiotemporal diversification of the True Frogs (Genus Rana): A historical framework for a widely studied group of model organisms. Systematic Biology 65:824–842. pdf

Cannatella, D. C. 2015. Review: Marsupial frogs: Gastrotheca and allied genera. Phyllomedusa: Journal of Herpetology 14:167-170. pdf

Ortega-Andrade, H. M., O. R. Rojas-Soto, J. H. Valencia, A. E. de los Monteros, J. J. Morrone, S. R. Ron, and D. C. Cannatella. 2015. Insights from integrative systematics reveal cryptic diversity in Pristimantis frogs (Anura: Craugastoridae) from the Upper Amazon Basin. PloS ONE 10:e0143392. pdf

Cannatella, D. C. 2015. Xenopus in time and space: fossils, node calibrations, tip-dating, and paleobiogeography. Cytogenetic and Genome Research 145:283–301. pdf

Colli, G. R., Hoogmoed, M. S., Cannatella, D. C. et al. 2015. Description and phylogenetic relationships of a new genus and two new species of lizards from Brazilian Amazonia, with nomenclatural comments on the taxonomy of Gymnophthalmidae (Reptilia: Squamata). Zootaxa 4000:401–427. pdf

Salerno, P. E., J. C. Señaris, F. J. M. Rojas-Runjaic, and D. C. Cannatella. 2015. Recent evolutionary history of Lost World endemics: population genetics, species delimitation, and phylogeography of sky-island treefrogs. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 82:314–323. pdf

Brown R. M., C. D. Siler, S. J. Richards, A. C. Diesmos, and D. C. Cannatella. 2015. Multilocus phylogeny and a new classification for Southeast Asian and Melanesian forest frogs (family Ceratobatrachidae). Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 174:130–168. pdf

Guerra, M. A., M. J. Ryan, D. C. Cannatella. 2014. Ontogeny of sexual dimorphism in the larynx of the tungara frog, Physalaemus pustulosus. Copeia 2014:123–129. pdf

Santos, J. C., M. Baquero, C. Barrio-Amorós, L. A. Coloma, L. K. Erdtmann, A. P. Lima, and D. C. Cannatella. 2014. Aposematism increases acoustic diversification and speciation in poison frogs. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 281:20141761. pdf

Guarnizo, C., and D. C. Cannatella. 2014. Geographic determinants of gene flow in two sister species of tropical Andean frogs. Journal of Heredity 105:216–225. pdf

Ron, S., A. Almendariz, and D. C. Cannatella. 2013. The Phyllomedusa perinesos group (Anura: Hylidae) is derived from a Miocene Amazonian Lineage. Zootaxa 3741:289–294. pdf

Guarnizo, C., and D. C. Cannatella. 2013. Genetic divergence within frog species is greater in topographically more complex regions. Journal of Zoological Systematics and Evolutionary Research 51:333–340. pdf

Blackburn, D. B., C. D. Siler, A. C. Diesmos, J. A. McGuire, D. C. Cannatella, and R. M. Brown. 2013. An adaptive radiation of frogs in a Southeast Asian island archipelago. Evolution 67:2631–2646. pdf

Zhang, P., D. Liang, R.-L. Mao, D. M. Hillis, D. B. Wake, and D. C. Cannatella. 2013. Efficient sequencing of anuran mtDNAs and a mitogenomic exploration of the phylogeny and evolution of frogs. Molecular Biology and Evolution 30:1899-1915. pdf

Hedtke, S. M., M. J. Morgan, D. C. Cannatella, and D. M. Hillis. 2013. Targeted enrichment: maximizing orthologous gene comparisons across deep evolutionary time. PLoS ONE 8:e67908. pdf

Abrams, A. J., D. C. Cannatella, D. M. Hillis, and S.L. Sawyer. 2013. Recent host-shifts in ranaviruses: signatures of positive selection in the viral genome. Journal of General Virology 94:2082–2093. pdf

Guarnizo, C. E., C. Escallón, D. Cannatella, and A. Amézquita. 2012. Congruence between acoustic traits and genealogical history reveals a new species of Dendropsophus (Anura: Hylidae) in the high Andes of Colombia. Herpetologica 68:523–540. pdf

Salerno, P. E., S. Ron, J. C. Señaris, F. J. M. Rojas-Runjaic, B. P. Noonan, and D. C. Cannatella. 2012. Ancient tepui summits harbor young rather than old lineages of endemic frogs. Evolution 66:3000–3013. pdf

Santos, J. C., and D. C. Cannatella. 2011. Phenotypic integration emerges from aposematism and scale in poison frogs. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences U.S.A. 108:6175–6180. pdf

Other publications from the lab 2011-2016

Santos, J. C., R. D. Tarvin, and L. A. O’Connell. 2016. A review of chemical defense in poison frogs (Dendrobatidae): Ecology, pharmacokinetics, and autoresistance. pp. 305–337. in Schulte, B. A. et al., Chemical signals in vertebrates. Volume 13. Springer International Publishing.

Tarvin, R. D, D. Acosta, and S. Ron. 2015. Is habitat destruction more dangerous for Atelopus than chytrid? Froglog 113:38.

Tarvin, R. D. 2015. Frog expedition in Cameroon. Save the Frogs Magazine, September 2015 Issue.

Balanoff, A., G. S. Bever, M. Colbert, C. Torres, et al. 2015. Best practices for digitally constructing endocranial casts: Examples from birds and their dinosaurian relatives. Journal of Anatomy doi: 10.1111/joa.12378.

Arantes, I., M. M. Vasconcellos, T. V. Boas, and G. C. Colli. 2015. Sexual dimorphism, growth, and longevity of two toad species (Anura, Bufonidae) in a Neotropical savanna. Copeia 2015:329–342.

Mesquita, D., G. C. Costa, M. M. Vasconcellos, et al. 2015. Autecology of Anolis brasiliensis (Squamata, Dactyloidae) in a Neotropical Savanna. Herpetological Journal 25:233–244

Brandvain, Y., G. B. Pauly, M. R. May, and M. Turelli. 2014. Explaining Darwin’s corollary to Haldane’s Rule: The role of mitonuclear interactions in asymmetric postzygotic isolation among toads. Genetics 197:743–747.

Shik, J. Z., J. C. Santos, J. N. Seal, A. Kay, U. G. Mueller, and M. Kaspari. 2014. Metabolism and the rise of fungus cultivation by ant societies. American Naturalist 184:364–373.

Marini, M. A., M. M. Vasconcellos, and Y. Lobo. 2014. Reproductive biology and territoriality of the Wedgetailed Grass-Finch (Emberizoides herbicola) (Aves: Passeriformes) Bioscience Journal 30:853–862.

Rojas-Runjaic, F. J. M., P. E. Salerno, J. C. Senaris, G. B. Pauly. 2013. Terraranans of the Lost World: a new species of Pristimantis (Amphibia, Craugastoridae) from Abakapá-tepui in the Chimantá massif, Venezuelan Guayana, and additions to the knowledge of P. muchimuk. Zootaxa 3686:335-355.

Garda, A. A., G. C. Costa, F. G. R. Franca, M. M. Vasconcellos, et al. 2012. Reproduction, body size, and diet of Polychrus acutirostris (Squamata: Polychrotidae) in two contrasting environments in Brazil. Journal of Herpetology 46:2–8.

Santos, J. C. 2012. Fast molecular evolution associated with high active metabolic rates in poison frogs. Molecular Biology and Evolution 29:2001–2018.

Barrio-Amorós, C. L., and J. C. Santos. 2012. A phylogeny for Aromobates (Anura: Dendrobatidae) with description of three new species from the Andes of Veneuela, taxonomic comments on Aromobates saltuensis, A. inflexus, and notes on the conservation status of the genus. Zootaxa 3422:1–31.

Salerno, P. E., and G. B. Pauly. 2012. Clutch size variation in egg-brooding Stefania. South American Journal of Herpetology 7:47–54.

Guimarães, T. C. S., G. B. de Figueiredo, D. O. Mesquita, and M. M. Vasconcellos. 2011. Ecology of Hypsiboas albopunctatus (Anura: Hylidae) in a Neotropical Savanna. Journal of Herpetology 45:244–250.

Davis, D. R., and G. B. Pauly. 2011. Morphological variation among populations of the Western Slimy Salamander on the Edwards Plateau of Central Texas. Copeia 2011:103–112.

Barrio-Amorós, C.L., and J. C. Santos. 2011. Redescription and generic assignation of Dendrobates rufulus Gorzula (Anura, Dendrobatidae) from Chimantá tepui, Venezuela. Salamandra 47:155–160.