Variation in the pelvic and pectoral girdles of Australian Oligo-Miocene mekosuchine crocodiles with implications for locomotion and habitus.
ABSTRACT: Australian Oligo-Miocene mekosuchines (Crocodylia; Crocodyloidea) display wide diversity in cranial shape and inferred hunting strategies. Terrestrial habitus has been inferred for these distinctive predators. A direct morphological signal for locomotion can be expected in the postcrania, particularly the pelvic and pectoral girdles. Here we describe fossil materials of the girdles, which chart their morphological variation in the subfamily from Eocene through to Middle Miocene. Over this period, both girdles undergo significant morphological changes. Notably, an enclosed, ventrally orientated acetabulum in the ilium is developed in one lineage. This recapitulates the erect parasagittal configuration of the pelvic limb seen in many Mesozoic crocodylomorph lineages, suggesting consistent use of erect high-walking in these mekosuchines. Other pelves from the same Oligo-Miocene deposits display morphology closer to modern crocodilians, suggesting a partitioning of locomotory strategy among sympatric mekosuchines. Plesiomorphic and derived pelvic girdles are distinguishable by parsimony analysis, and the earliest examples of the mekosuchine pelvis more closely resemble gavialids and alligatorids while latter forms converge on crown group crocodylids in the morphology of the iliac crest. This suggests that a revaluation of the base relationship of Mekosuchinae within Eusuchia is necessary.
Project description:While the crocodyliform lineage extends back over 200 million years (Myr) to the Late Triassic, modern forms-members of Eusuchia-do not appear until the Cretaceous. Eusuchia includes the crown group Crocodylia, which comprises Crocodyloidea, Alligatoroidea and Gavialoidea. Fossils of non-crocodylian eusuchians are currently rare and, in most instances, fragmentary. Consequently, the transition from Neosuchia to Crocodylia has been one of the most poorly understood areas of crocodyliform evolution. Here we describe a new crocodyliform from the mid-Cretaceous (98-95 Myr ago; Albian-Cenomanian) Winton Formation of Queensland, Australia, as the most primitive member of Eusuchia. The anatomical changes associated with the emergence of this taxon indicate a pivotal shift in the feeding and locomotor behaviour of crocodyliforms-a shift that may be linked to the subsequent rapid diversification of Eusuchia 20 Myr later during the Late Cretaceous and Early Tertiary. While Laurasia (in particular North America) is the most likely ancestral area for Crocodylia, the biogeographic events associated with the origin of Eusuchia are more complex. Although the fossil evidence is limited, it now seems likely that at least part of the early history of Eusuchia transpired in Gondwana.
Project description:Within jawed vertebrates, pelvic appendages have been modified or lost repeatedly, including in the most phylogenetically basal, extinct, antiarch placoderms. One Early Devonian basal antiarch, Parayunnanolepis, possessed pelvic girdles, suggesting the presence of pelvic appendages at the origin of jawed vertebrates; their absence in more derived antiarchs implies a secondary loss. Recently, paired female genital plates were identified in the Late Devonian antiarch, Bothriolepis canadensis, in the position of pelvic girdles in other placoderms. We studied these putative genital plates along an ontogenetic series of B. canadensis; ontogenetic changes in their morphology, histology and elemental composition suggest they represent endoskeletal pelvic girdles composed of perichondral and endochondral bone. We suggest that pelvic fins of derived antiarchs were lost, while pelvic girdles were retained, but reduced, relative to Parayunnanolepis This indicates developmental plasticity and evolutionary lability in pelvic appendages, shortly after these elements evolved at the origin of jawed vertebrates.
Project description:Fishes have adapted a number of different behaviors to move out of the water, but none have been described as being able to walk on land with a tetrapod-like gait. Here we show that the blind cavefish Cryptotora thamicola walks and climbs waterfalls with a salamander-like diagonal-couplets lateral sequence gait and has evolved a robust pelvic girdle that shares morphological features associated with terrestrial vertebrates. In all other fishes, the pelvic bones are suspended in a muscular sling or loosely attached to the pectoral girdle anteriorly. In contrast, the pelvic girdle of Cryptotora is a large, broad puboischiadic plate that is joined to the iliac process of a hypertrophied sacral rib; fusion of these bones in tetrapods creates an acetabulum. The vertebral column in the sacral area has large anterior and posterior zygapophyses, transverse processes, and broad neural spines, all of which are associated with terrestrial organisms. The diagonal-couplet lateral sequence gait was accomplished by rotation of the pectoral and pelvic girdles creating a standing wave of the axial body. These findings are significant because they represent the first example of behavioural and morphological adaptation in an extant fish that converges on the tetrapodal walking behaviour and morphology.
Project description:Biological invasions can induce rapid evolutionary change. As cane toads (Rhinella marina) have spread across tropical Australia over an 80-year period, their rate of invasion has increased from around 15 to 60 km per annum. Toads at the invasion front disperse much faster and further than conspecifics from range-core areas, and their offspring inherit that rapid dispersal rate. We investigated morphological changes that have accompanied this dramatic acceleration, by conducting three-dimensional morphometric analyses of toads from both range-core and invasion-front populations. Morphology of heads, limbs, pectoral girdles and pelvic girdles differed significantly between toads from the two areas, ranging from 0.5% to 16.5% difference in mean bone dimensions between populations, with invasion-front toads exhibiting wider forelimbs, narrower hindlimbs and more compact skulls. Those changes plausibly reflect an increased reliance on bounding (multiple short hops in quick succession) rather than separate large leaps. Within an 80-year period, invasive cane toads have converted the basic anuran body plan - which evolved for occasional large leaps to evade predators - into a morphotype better-suited to sustained long-distance travel.
Project description:The phylogenetic position of the recently extinct marsupial 'wolf', or thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus), has been a source of contention in mammalian systematics for nearly a century. Thylacines were endemic to Australasia, but possessed striking anatomical similarities to Oligo-Miocene borhyaenid marsupials of South America. At issue has been whether these features are indicative of common ancestry or convergent adaptation to carnivory. Recent morphological studies have supported both conclusions. Although current marsupial classifications group thylacines with Australian dasyuromorphians, this putative clade is characterized by mostly primitive morphological features. Attempts to determine thylacine affinities with ancient protein and DNA analyses have supported, but not resolved, a dasyuromorphian placement. We report 1546 bp of mitochondrial DNA sequence (from cytochrome b and 12S rRNA genes) and 841 bp of nuclear protamine gene sequence from the thylacine and representatives of all or most other marsupial orders. Phylogenetic analysis of these sequences shows unambiguously that thylacines are members of Dasyuromorphia, and suggests a late Oligocene or very early Miocene divergence of familial lineages.
Project description:Crocodyliformes is a group with a broad fossil record, in which several morphological changes have been documented. Among known transformations the most iconic is perhaps the series of changes seen in the structural evolution of the choanae. The change in the position of the choanae was important during the evolutionary history of the Crocodyliformes. This structure is relevant in the phylogenetic position of many crocodyliforms. The new skull of Susisuchus anatoceps from the Crato Formation of the Santana Group (Lower Cretaceous) is described and the preservation in the ventral view allows character encoding not yet observed for the species. The new specimen shows a typical eusuchian palate for Susisuchus anatoceps, in which the choana is fully enclosed by the pterygoid. The Susisuchidae clade has been placed in different phylogenetic positions: as a sister group of Eusuchia, advanced Neosuchia and in Eusuchia. In Isisfordia there are reports that the choana of this taxon is or is not fully enclosed by the pterygoid. The encoding of the ventral characters of S. anatoceps places Susisuchidae in Eusuchia. However, this position must be further studied, since the matrices showed fragility in the reconstitution of the Neosuchia-Eusuchia transition.
Project description:Neptunidraco ammoniticus is a thalattosuchian crocodylomorph from the Rosso Ammonitico Veronese Formation (RAVF, Middle Jurassic) of northern Italy. Erected from one partial specimen, Neptunidraco is pivotal in reconstructing thalattosuchian evolution, being it the oldest known member of Metriorhynchidae. Two additional RAVF thalattosuchians have been referred to Neptunidraco. A revised diagnosis of N. ammoniticus is provided here. Using a well-sampled phylogenetic data set of Crocodylomorpha, the affinities of all three RAVF thalattosuchian specimens are investigated simultaneously for the first time using parsimony tree-search strategies and Bayesian inference using the Fossilized Birth-Death with Sampled Ancestor (FBDSA) model. The results of the alternative analyses are not consistent in the placement of the RAVF specimens. The holotype of N. ammoniticus is consequently referred to Metriorhynchidae incertae sedis. The first referred specimen is recovered in various alternative placements among Metriorhynchoidea. The third and most fragmentary specimen is recovered as a crocodylomorph of uncertain affinities in the parsimony analysis and in the undated Bayesian analysis, and a metriorhynchoid sister taxon of the second RAVF specimen in the tip-dated Bayesian analysis. Only a subset of the results in the parsimony-based analyses supports the referral of the latter two specimens to Neptunidraco. The unusually high rate of morphological divergence for the Neptunidraco branch, inferred in previous iterations of the Bayesian inference analyses but not recovered in the novel analysis, was likely an artifact of the a priori constraint of all RAVF thalattosuchians into a single taxonomic unit, and of the arbitrarily fixed tip-age priors for the terminal taxa. These results confirm the utility of specimen-level morphological analysis and of combined tree-search strategies for inferring the affinities and the inclusiveness of fragmentary but significant fossil taxa, and reinforce the importance of incorporating stratigraphic uncertainty as prior in tip-dated Bayesian inference analyses.
Project description:BACKGROUND:Geographical variation in morphological traits may reflect evolutionary patterns of morphological adaptability along environmental gradients. Comprehensive information on longitudinal patterns of morphological trait variation is very meaningful to explore morphological diversity and evolutionary trends in widespread bermudagrass. METHODS:To explore the spatial patterns of morphological traits, we investigated 10 morphological traits of bermudagrass and 10 soil nutrient indexes and collected local climate data for 13 different regions from 119°E to 105°E along the latitude 34°N. RESULTS:Considerable variations in morphological traits were observed at different longitudes, and the variations in most of the evaluated traits within populations were lower than those among populations. All of the 13 different longitudinal sites were divided into three groups based on morphological traits by cluster analysis. The major sources of diversity at the different longitudes were leaf length of the erect shoot, leaf width of the erect shoot, and the internode lengths of the erect shoot and stolon as determined by principal component analysis. Pearson correlation analysis also indicated that longitude was significantly and negatively correlated with these traits as well. Mean average rainfall was significantly correlated with leaf length of the erect shoot and the internode lengths of the erect shoot and stolon, while mean average temperature was only significantly correlated with internode length of the erect shoots. Available sulfur was significantly correlated with internode length of the erect shoot, plant height, and reproductive branch height, while the exchangeable Ca was significantly correlated with internode lengths of the erect shoot and stolon. Soil pH was significantly correlated with the internode length of the stolon. Longitude is an important factor that affects morphological trait variation in wild bermudagrass, and the leaves of the erect shoot and the internode length enlarged significantly with the collection sites moving from east to west. CONCLUSION:Different combinations and interactions of environmental factors (soil and climate) along a longitudinal gradient may have strong effects on one or more morphological traits of bermudagrass.
Project description:Marine biodiversity in the Coral Triangle is several times higher than anywhere else, but why this is true is unknown because of poor historical data. To address this, we compared the first available record of fossil cheilostome bryozoans from Indonesia with the previously sampled excellent record from the Caribbean. These two regions differ several-fold in species richness today, but cheilostome diversity was strikingly similar until the end of the Miocene 5.3 million years ago so that the modern disparity must have developed more recently. However, the Miocene faunas were ecologically very different, with a greater proportion of erect and free-living species in the Caribbean compared to the less well-known Coral Triangle. Our results support the hypothesis that modern differences in diversity arose primarily from differential extinction of Caribbean erect and free-living species concomitant with oceanographic changes due to the uplift of the Isthmus of Panama, rather than exceptional rates of diversification in the Indo-Pacific.
Project description:A new fossil skate, Ostarriraja parva gen. et sp. nov., represented by a single partial articulated skeleton collected from the early Miocene fish-bearing strata of Upper Austria, is described here in detail. This taxon exhibits a unique combination of skeletal and dental features (e.g. nasal capsules broad and oval; presence of pectoral arch; compound radial articulated with single radial segments in serial fashion; separated pelvic girdle condyles; reduced catenated calcification of radials; about 86 pectoral radials; 20-21 pelvic-fin radials; 65-70 predorsal vertebrae) that clearly support its assignment to a new genus of the order Rajiformes, and the phylogenetic analyses reveal its basal position within the group. The comparison between Ostarriraja and the holomorphic batoids from Late Cretaceous of Lebanon traditionally aligned with skates concurs to suggest that this Neogene occurrence represents unquestionably the first known skeletal record for the group. The morphological and phylogenetic affinities of Ostarriraja with the living skates suggest a close association of this taxon with the temperate-cold water environments hypothesized for the Central Paratethys during the early Miocene. http://zoobank.org/urn:lsid:zoobank.org:pub:8BB8F0F3-35C5-47FA-AE3C-2CBF445C4BCA.