Employing an integrative approach to investigate the evolution of morphology can yield novel perspectives not attainable from a single field of study. Studies of limb loss and body elongation in squamates (snakes and lizards) present a good example in which integrating studies of systematics and ecology with genetics and development can provide considerable new insight. In this comment we address several misunderstandings of the developmental genetic literature presented in a paper by Wiens and Slingluff (2001) to counter their criticism of previous work in these disciplines and to clarify the apparently contradictory data from different fields of study. Specifically, we comment on (1) the developmental mechanisms underlying axial regionalization, body elongation, and limb loss; (2) the utility of presacral vertebral counts versus more specific partitioning of the primary body axis; (3) the independent, modular nature of limbs and limb girdles and their utility in diagnosing genetic changes in development; and (4) the causal bases of hind limb reduction in ophidian and nonophidian squamates.
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Vol. 58 • No. 9