Phylogenetic relationships of amphibian families inferred from DNA sequences of mitochondrial 12S and 16S ribosomal RNA genes

J. M. Hay, I. Ruvinsky, S. B. Hedges*, L. R. Maxson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

190 Scopus citations


Nucleotide sequence comparisons were used to investigate ordinal and familial relationships within the class Amphibia. Approximately 850 base pairs of the mitochondrial 16S ribosomal RNA (rRNA) gene from representatives of 28 of the 40 families of extant amphibians were sequenced. Phylogenetic analyses of these data together with published data of the 12S rRNA gene for the same families and both genes for three more taxa (approximately 1,300 base pairs total for 35 taxa) support the monophyly of each of the three amphibian orders: Anura (confidence value with the interior-branch test: P(c) = 99%), Caudata (P(c) = 100%), and Gymnophiona (P(c) = 99%). An analysis using the four-cluster method cannot discriminate significantly between all three possible unrooted trees involving the three orders of amphibians and an outgroup. Within the Anura, there is support for the monophyly of the two suborders: Neobatrachia (P(c) = 100%) and Archaeobatrachia (P(c) = 97%); the latter was believed to be paraphyletic on the basis of morphology. Within the Archaeobatrachia, the following pairs of taxa cluster: Pelobatidae + Pelodytidae (P(c) = 99%), Pipidae + Rhinophrynidae (P(c) = 99%), Ascaphus + Leiopelmatidae (P(c) = 89%), and Bombina + Discoglossidae (P(c) = 99%). The latter six taxa cluster (P(c) = 94%) such that Pelobatidae + Pelodytidae forms a basal lineage within the Archaeobatrachia. Three major lineages are distinguished within the Neobatrachia: the superfamily Bufonoidea sensu Duellman (P(c) = 86%), the superfamily Randidea sensu Lynch (P(c) = 99%), and the Sooglossidae. Basal within the Bufonoidea, Myobatrachidae + Heleophrynidae cluster at P(c) = 96%. The enigmatic Dendrobatidae clusters with the bufonoid families (P(c) = 92%) and is excluded from the ranoid families (P(c) = 99%). The Microhylidae, considered by some to form a separate superfamily, clusters within the Ranoidea (P(c) = 99%). Within the Caudata, familial relationships are not resolved at significant confidence levels. We suggest that short divergence times among amphibian orders and among salamander families have contributed to the difficulty in fully resolving these relationships.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)928-937
Number of pages10
JournalMolecular biology and evolution
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1995


  • Anura
  • Caudata
  • Gymnophiona
  • molecular systematics
  • phylogeny
  • ribosomal RNA genes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology


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