Distinct patterns of desynchronized limb regression in malagasy scincine lizards (squamata, scincidae).
ABSTRACT: Scincine lizards in Madagascar form an endemic clade of about 60 species exhibiting a variety of ecomorphological adaptations. Several subclades have adapted to burrowing and convergently regressed their limbs and eyes, resulting in a variety of partial and completely limbless morphologies among extant taxa. However, patterns of limb regression in these taxa have not been studied in detail. Here we fill this gap in knowledge by providing a phylogenetic analysis of DNA sequences of three mitochondrial and four nuclear gene fragments in an extended sampling of Malagasy skinks, and microtomographic analyses of osteology of various burrowing taxa adapted to sand substrate. Based on our data we propose to (i) consider Sirenoscincus Sakata & Hikida, 2003, as junior synonym of Voeltzkowia Boettger, 1893; (ii) resurrect the genus name Grandidierina Mocquard, 1894, for four species previously included in Voeltzkowia; and (iii) consider Androngo Brygoo, 1982, as junior synonym of Pygomeles Grandidier, 1867. By supporting the clade consisting of the limbless Voeltzkowia mira and the forelimb-only taxa V. mobydick and V. yamagishii, our data indicate that full regression of limbs and eyes occurred in parallel twice in the genus Voeltzkowia (as hitherto defined) that we consider as a sand-swimming ecomorph: in the Voeltzkowia clade sensu stricto the regression first affected the hindlimbs and subsequently the forelimbs, whereas the Grandidierina clade first regressed the forelimbs and subsequently the hindlimbs following the pattern prevalent in squamates. Timetree reconstructions for the Malagasy Scincidae contain a substantial amount of uncertainty due to the absence of suitable primary fossil calibrations. However, our preliminary reconstructions suggest rapid limb regression in Malagasy scincids with an estimated maximal duration of 6 MYr for a complete regression in Paracontias, and 4 and 8 MYr respectively for complete regression of forelimbs in Grandidierina and hindlimbs in Voeltzkowia.
Project description:Populations of terrestrial or freshwater taxa that are separated by oceans can be explained by either oceanic dispersal or fragmentation of a previously contiguous land mass. Amphisbaenians, the worm lizards (approx. 165 species), are small squamate reptiles that are uniquely adapted to a burrowing lifestyle and inhabit Africa, South America, Caribbean Islands, North America, Europe and the Middle East. All but a few species are limbless and they rarely leave their subterranean burrows. Given their peculiar habits, the distribution of amphisbaenians has been assumed to be primarily the result of two land-mass fragmentation events: the split of the supercontinent Pangaea starting 200 Myr ago, separating species on the northern land mass (Laurasia) from those on the southern land mass (Gondwana), and the split of South America from Africa 100 Myr ago. Here we show with molecular evidence that oceanic dispersal-on floating islands-played a more prominent role, and that amphisbaenians crossed the Atlantic Ocean in the Eocene (40 Myr ago) resulting in a tropical American radiation representing one-half of all known amphisbaenian species. Until now, only four or five transatlantic dispersal events were known in terrestrial vertebrates. Significantly, this is the first such dispersal event to involve a group that burrows, an unexpected lifestyle for an oceanic disperser.
Project description:STM35-3 from the Yixian Formation is the only Early Cretaceous ornithuromorph preserving direct evidence of granivory. The crop contains numerous seeds and the preservation of gastroliths presumably within the ventriculus indicates this diet was paired with the presence of a gastric mill as in living granivorous birds. STM35-3 was originally referred to Hongshanornis longicresta, member of a diverse clade of small, basal ornithuromorphs with elongate hindlimbs known as the Hongshanornithidae. Hindlimb proportions suggest that hongshanornithids were wading birds, an ecological inference somewhat in conflict with direct evidence suggesting Hongshanornis fed on seeds. However, close inspection of STM35-3 reveals that the specimen represents a new species not closely related to hongshanornithids, distinguished by large forelimbs that exceed the length of the hindlimbs, robust and narrow coracoids, and a delicate edentulous rostrum. By contrast, all hongshanornithids have hindlimbs that far exceed the length of the forelimbs, coracoids with wide sternal margins, and small teeth throughout the upper and lower jaws. Reinterpretation of this new taxon, Eogranivora edentulata gen. et sp. nov, helps to clarify trophic driven patterns of tooth loss within the Ornithuromorpha. Apparent loss of the hallux may represent the first such occurrence in a Mesozoic bird and suggests a highly terrestrial lifestyle.
Project description:The past decade has seen a proliferation of new species of Miniopterus bats (family Miniopteridae) recognized from Madagascar and the neighboring Comoros archipelago. The interspecific relationships of these taxa, their colonization history, and the evolution of this presumed adaptive radiation have not been sufficiently explored. Using the mitochondrial cytochrome-b gene, we present a phylogeny of the Malagasy members of this widespread Old World genus, based on 218 sequences, of which 82 are new and 136 derived from previous studies. Phylogenetic analyses recovered 18 clades, which divide into five primary lineages: (1) M. griveaudi; (2) M. mahafaliensis, M. sororculus and X3; (3) M. majori, M. gleni and M. griffithsi; (4) M. brachytragos; M. aelleniA, and M. aelleniB; and (5) M. manavi and M. petersoni recovered as sister species, which were in turn linked to a group comprising M. egeri and five genetically distinct populations referred to herein as P3, P4, P5, P6 and P7. Beast analysis indicated that the initial divergence within the Malagasy Miniopterus radiation took place 4.5 Myr; most species diverged between 4 and 2.5 Myr, and a secondary period was between 1.25 and 1 Myr. DNA K2P-distances between recognized taxa ranged from 12.9% to 2.5% and intraspecific variation was less than 1.8%. Of the 18 identified clades, Latin binomials are only associated with 11, which indicates much greater differentiation than currently recognized for Malagasy Miniopterus. These data are placed in a context of the dispersal history of this genus on the island and patterns of ecological diversity.
Project description:BACKGROUND: Taeniodonta is a clade of Late Cretaceous-Paleogene mammals remarkable for their relatively extreme cranial, dental, and postcranial adaptations and notable for being among the first mammals to achieve relatively large size following the Cretaceous-Paleogene mass extinction. Previous workers have hypothesized that taeniodonts can be divided into two clades: Conoryctidae, a group of small-bodied taeniodonts with supposedly "generalized" postcranial skeletons, and Stylinodontidae, a group of large-bodied, robust animals with massive forelimbs and claws adapted for scratch-digging. However, many taeniodont taxa are poorly known and few are represented by postcranial material, leaving many details about their anatomy, biology, and evolution ambiguous. METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: In this paper, we describe three new specimens of the rare taxon Wortmania otariidens from the early Paleocene (Puercan) of New Mexico. Among these specimens is one that includes remarkably complete cranial and dental material, including associated upper and lower teeth, and another that consists of partial forelimbs. These specimens allow for an updated anatomical description of this unusual taxon, supply new data for phylogenetic analyses, and enable a more constrained discussion of taeniodont biology and functional morphology. CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: The new specimen of Wortmania that includes associated upper and lower teeth indicates that previous interpretations of the upper dentition of this taxon were not accurate and the taxon Robertschochia sullivani is a junior synonym of W. otariidens. New specimens that include partial forelimbs indicate that Wortmania is very similar to later, large-bodied taeniodonts, with marked and distinctive adaptations for scratch-digging. Comparisons with other taeniodont taxa that include postcranial material suggest that all taeniodonts may have had scratch-digging adaptations. A phylogenetic analysis shows that Schowalteria and Onychodectes are basal taeniodonts, Stylinodontidae (including Wortmania) is monophyletic, and a monophyletic Conoryctidae (but not including Onychodectes) is only recovered when certain characters are ordered.
Project description:Can lower limb motor function be improved after a spinal cord lesion by re-engaging functional activity of the upper limbs? We addressed this issue by training the forelimbs in conjunction with the hindlimbs after a thoracic spinal cord hemisection in adult rats. The spinal circuitries were more excitable, and behavioural and electrophysiological analyses showed improved hindlimb function when the forelimbs were engaged simultaneously with the hindlimbs during treadmill step-training as opposed to training only the hindlimbs. Neuronal retrograde labelling demonstrated a greater number of propriospinal labelled neurons above and below the thoracic lesion site in quadrupedally versus bipedally trained rats. The results provide strong evidence that actively engaging the forelimbs improves hindlimb function and that one likely mechanism underlying these effects is the reorganization and re-engagement of rostrocaudal spinal interneuronal networks. For the first time, we provide evidence that the spinal interneuronal networks linking the forelimbs and hindlimbs are amenable to a rehabilitation training paradigm. Identification of this phenomenon provides a strong rationale for proceeding toward preclinical studies for determining whether training paradigms involving upper arm training in concert with lower extremity training can enhance locomotor recovery after neurological damage.
Project description:BACKGROUND:Quantifying morphological diversity across taxa can provide valuable insight into evolutionary processes, yet its complexities can make it difficult to identify appropriate units for evaluation. One of the challenges in this field is identifying the processes that drive morphological evolution, especially when accounting for shape diversification across multiple structures. Differential levels of co-varying phenotypic diversification can conceal selective pressures on traits due to morphological integration or modular shape evolution of different structures, where morphological evolution of different modules is explained either by co-variation between them or by independent evolution, respectively. METHODS:Here we used a 3D geometric morphometric approach with x-ray micro CT scan data of the skull and bones of forelimbs and hindlimbs of representative species from all 21 genera of the ancient Australo-Papuan myobatrachid frogs and analysed their shape both as a set of distinct modules and as a multi-modular integrative structure. We then tested three main questions: (i) are evolutionary patterns and the amount and direction of morphological changes similar in different structures and subfamilies?, (ii) do skulls and limbs show different levels of integration?, and (iii) is morphological diversity of skulls and limbs shaped by diet, locomotion, burrowing behavior, and ecology?. RESULTS:Our results in both skulls and limbs support a complex evolutionary pattern typical of an adaptive radiation with an early burst of phenotypic variation followed by slower rates of morphological change. Skull shape diversity was phylogenetically conserved and correlated with diet whereas limb shape was more labile and associated with diet, locomotion, and burrowing behaviour. Morphological changes between different limb bones were highly correlated, depicting high morphological integration. In contrast, overall limb and skull shape displayed semi-independence in morphological evolution, indicating modularity. CONCLUSIONS:Our results illustrate how morphological diversification in animal clades can follow complex processes, entailing selective pressures from the environment as well as multiple trait covariance with varying degrees of independence across different structures. We suggest that accurately quantifying shape diversity across multiple structures is crucial in order to understand complex evolutionary processes.
Project description:Colubrid snakes form a speciose group of unclarified phylogeny. Their almost cosmopolitan distribution could be interpreted as a product of plate-tectonic vicariance. We used sequences of the nuclear c-mos, the mitochondrial cytochrome b and the 16S rRNA genes in 41 taxa to elucidate the relationships between the endemic colubrid genera found in Madagascar and in the Socotra archipelago. The well-resolved trees indicate multiple origins of both the Malagasy and the Socotran taxa. The Malagasy genus Mimophis was nested within the Psammophiinae, and the Socotran Hemerophis was closely related to Old World representatives of the former genus Coluber. The remaining 14 genera of Malagasy colubrids formed a monophyletic sister group of the Socotran Ditypophis (together forming the Pseudoxyrhophiinae). Molecular-clock estimates place the divergence of Malagasy and Socotran colubrids from their non-insular sister groups into a time-frame between the Eocene and Miocene. Over-seas rafting is the most likely hypothesis for the origin of at least the Malagasy taxa. The discovery of a large monophyletic clade of colubrids endemic to Madagascar indicates a need for taxonomic changes. The relationship of this radiation to the Socotran Ditypophis highlights the potential of the Indian Ocean islands to act as an evolutionary reservoir for lineages that have become extinct in Africa and Asia.
Project description:Background:Kinetic motion analysis has been used in canines and equines as a fundamental objective evaluation measurement. Cats are very capable jumpers, and this ability has biomimetic applications. It is essential to understand movement patterns and physical adaptations of this species, as cats are popular pets for humans. Further to this, motion analysis of a cat's movement patterns may provide potentially valuable information in relation to limb disease and injury. Therefore, the aim of this study was to investigate kinetic differences in cats when landing from varying preselected controlled heights. Methods:The peak vertical force (PVF) and paw contact area (CA) of both the forelimbs and hindlimbs were collected from seven healthy Chinese domesticated cats while landing from heights of 30 cm, 50 cm, 70 cm and 90 cm respectively. The falling motivation for the cats was facilitated with the use of a flip board. This device provided the basis for the cats to land passively. Results:The results indicated that the PVF of all examined limbs (fore right, fore left, hind right, hind left) significantly increased as the height increased. When the PVF from the hindlimbs and forelimbs were compared, the forelimbs recorded significantly greater values for all heights examined (P < 0.001). The PVF of the hindlimbs was symmetrical at all heights, but forelimb symmetry only occurred at the lower heights. The hindlimbs demonstrated larger CA than the forelimbs measured from all heights on landing (P < 0.001). Moreover, the paw CA on the left and right limbs were symmetrical. Discussion:The paw CA of cats may be an effective parameter to evaluate abnormalities or diseases in the limbs of cats. Additionally, these findings highlight how cats land from varying heights, which may also provide reference values for the bionic design of artificial limbs for felines and treatment for limb diseases in this species.
Project description:The evolutionary relationships of the burrowing amphisbaenians ('worm lizards') have long been controversial for several reasons: the rarity of museum specimens available for study, highly derived morphological conditions that can confound comparative studies and difficulty in obtaining tissues for molecular phylogenetic studies because of their secretive habits in the wild. We present a phylogenetic analysis of two nuclear genes obtained from both fresh tissues and museum specimens of worm lizards. We achieved sufficient taxonomic sampling for analysis by extracting DNA from museum specimens using a modified forensics protocol. Results show the limbless Rhineuridae to be the most basal lineage, whereas the limbed Bipedidae occupy a more derived position as the sister-taxon to a Trogonophidae-Amphisbaenidae clade. This pattern of relationships indicates widespread morphological convergence within the group, including three independent incidences of limb loss. Convergence in skull shape and scalation is also prevalent. Mosaic evolution in the skull versus postcranial skeleton parallels that seen in snake evolution.
Project description:Some rats spinalized P1/P2 achieve autonomous weight-supported locomotion and quiet stance as adults. We used force platforms and robot-applied perturbations to test such spinalized rats (n = 6) that exhibited both weight-supporting locomotion and stance, and also normal rats (n = 8). Ground reaction forces in individual limbs and the animals' center of pressure were examined. In normal rats, both forelimbs and hindlimbs participated actively to control horizontal components of ground reaction forces. Rostral perturbations increased forelimb ground reaction forces and caudal perturbations increased hindlimb ground reaction forces. Operate rats carried 60% body weight on the forelimbs and had a more rostral center of pressure placement. The pattern in normal rats was to carry significantly more weight on the hindlimbs in quiet stance (roughly 60%). The strategy of operate rats to compensate for perturbations was entirely in forelimbs; as a result, the hindlimbs were largely isolated from the perturbation. Stiffness magnitude of the whole body was measured: its magnitude was hourglass shaped, with the principal axis oriented rostrocaudally. Operate rats were significantly less stiff--only 60-75% of normal rats' stiffness. The injured rats adopt a stance strategy that isolates the hindlimbs from perturbation and may thus prevent hindlimb loadings. Such loadings could initiate reflex stepping, which we observed. This might activate lumbar pattern generators used in their locomotion. Adult spinalized rats never achieve independent hindlimb weight-supported stance. The stance strategy of the P1 spinalized rats differed strongly from the behavior of intact rats and may be difficult for rats spinalized as adults to master.