Divergent evolutionary morphology of the axial skeleton as a potential key innovation in modern cetaceans.
ABSTRACT: Cetaceans represent the most diverse clade of extant marine tetrapods. Although the restructuring of oceans could have contributed to their diversity, other factors might also be involved. Similar to ichthyosaurs and sharks, variation of morphological traits could have promoted the colonization of new ecological niches and supported their diversification. By combining morphological data describing the axial skeleton of 73 cetacean species with phylogenetic comparative methods, we demonstrate that the vertebral morphology of cetaceans is associated with their habitat. All riverine and coastal species possess a small body size, lengthened vertebrae and a low vertebral count compared with open ocean species. Extant cetaceans have followed two distinct evolutionary pathways relative to their ecology. Whereas most offshore species such as baleen whales evolved towards an increased body size while retaining a low vertebral count, small oceanic dolphins underwent deep modifications of their axial skeleton with an extremely high number of short vertebrae. Our comparative analyses provide evidence these vertebral modifications have potentially operated as key innovations. These novelties contributed to their explosive radiation, resulting in an efficient swimming style that provides energetic advantages to small-sized species.
Project description:<h4>Background</h4>A long, slender body plan characterized by an elongate antorbital region and posterior displacement of the unpaired fins has evolved multiple times within ray-finned fishes, and is associated with ambush predation. The axial skeleton of ray-finned fishes is divided into abdominal and caudal regions, considered to be evolutionary modules. In this study, we test whether the convergent evolution of the ambush predator body plan is associated with predictable, regional changes in the axial skeleton, specifically whether the abdominal region is preferentially lengthened relative to the caudal region through the addition of vertebrae. We test this hypothesis in seven clades showing convergent evolution of this body plan, examining abdominal and caudal vertebral counts in over 300 living and fossil species. In four of these clades, we also examined the relationship between the fineness ratio and vertebral regionalization using phylogenetic independent contrasts.<h4>Results</h4>We report that in five of the clades surveyed, Lepisosteidae, Esocidae, Belonidae, Sphyraenidae and Fistulariidae, vertebrae are added preferentially to the abdominal region. In Lepisosteidae, Esocidae, and Belonidae, increasing abdominal vertebral count was also significantly related to increasing fineness ratio, a measure of elongation. Two clades did not preferentially add abdominal vertebrae: Saurichthyidae and Aulostomidae. Both of these groups show the development of a novel caudal region anterior to the insertion of the anal fin, morphologically differentiated from more posterior caudal vertebrae.<h4>Conclusions</h4>The preferential addition of abdominal vertebrae in fishes with an elongate body shape is consistent with the existence of a conservative positioning module formed by the boundary between the abdominal and caudal vertebral regions and the anterior insertion of the anal fin. Dissociation of this module is possible, although less probable than changes in the independently evolving abdominal region. Dissociation of the axial skeleton-median fin module leads to increased regionalization within the caudal vertebral column, something that has evolved several times in bony fishes, and may be homologous with the sacral region of tetrapods. These results suggest that modularity of the axial skeleton may result in somewhat predictable evolutionary outcomes in bony fishes.
Project description:Mammals show a very low level of variation in vertebral count, particularly in the neck. Phenotypes exhibited at various stages during the development of the axial skeleton may play a key role in testing mechanisms recently proposed to explain this conservatism. Here, we provide osteogenetic data that identify developmental criteria with which to recognize cervical vs. noncervical vertebrae in mammals. Except for sloths, all mammals show the late ossification of the caudal-most centra in the neck after other centra and neural arches. In sloths with 8-10 ribless neck vertebrae, the caudal-most neck centra ossify early, matching the pattern observed in cranial thoracic vertebrae of other mammals. Accordingly, we interpret the ribless neck vertebrae of three-toed sloths caudal to V7 as thoracic based on our developmental criterion. Applied to the unusual vertebral phenotype of long-necked sloths, these data support the interpretation that elements of the axial skeleton with origins from distinct mesodermal tissues have repatterned over the course of evolution.
Project description:The number of precaudal vertebrae in all extant crocodylians is remarkably conservative, with nine cervicals, 15 dorsals and two sacrals, a pattern present also in their closest extinct relatives. The consistent vertebral count indicates a tight control of axial patterning by Hox genes during development. Here we report on a deviation from this pattern based on an associated skeleton of the giant caimanine Purussaurus, a member of crown Crocodylia, and several other specimens from the Neogene of the northern neotropics. P. mirandai is the first crown-crocodylian to have three sacrals, two true sacral vertebrae and one non-pathological and functional dorsosacral, to articulate with the ilium (pelvis). The giant body size of this caiman relates to locomotory and postural changes. The iliosacral configuration, a more vertically oriented pectoral girdle, and low torsion of the femoral head relative to the condyles are hypothesized specializations for more upright limb orientation or weight support.
Project description:BACKGROUND:The axial skeleton consists of repeating units (vertebrae) that are integrated through their development and evolution. Unlike most tetrapods, vertebrae in the mammalian trunk are subdivided into distinct thoracic and lumbar modules, resulting in a system that is constrained in terms of count but highly variable in morphology. This study asks how thoracolumbar regionalization has impacted adaptation and evolvability across mammals. Using geometric morphometrics, we examine evolutionary patterns in five vertebral positions from diverse mammal species encompassing a broad range of locomotor ecologies. We quantitatively compare the effects of phylogenetic and allometric constraints, and ecological adaptation between regions, and examine their impact on evolvability (disparity and evolutionary rate) of serially-homologous vertebrae. RESULTS:Although phylogenetic signal and allometry are evident throughout the trunk, the effect of locomotor ecology is partitioned between vertebral positions. Lumbar vertebral shape correlates most strongly with ecology, differentiating taxa based on their use of asymmetric gaits. Similarly, disparity and evolutionary rates are also elevated posteriorly, indicating a link between the lumbar region, locomotor adaptation, and evolvability. CONCLUSION:Vertebral regionalization in mammals has facilitated rapid evolution of the posterior trunk in response to selection for locomotion and static body support.
Project description:<h4>Background</h4>Ichthyosaurs were an important group of Mesozoic marine reptiles and existed from the Early Triassic to the early Late Cretaceous. Despite a great diversity in body shapes and feeding adaptations, all share greatly enlarged eyes, an elongated rostrum with numerous conical teeth, and a streamlined body.<h4>Methodology/principal findings</h4>Based on new material from China and the restudy of Shastasaurus pacificus, we here reinterpret the classical large-bodied Late Triassic ichthyosaur genus Shastasaurus to differ greatly from the standard ichthyosaurian body plan, indicating much greater morphological diversity and range of feeding adaptations in ichthyosaurs than previously recognized. Phylogenetic analysis indicates a monophyletic clade consisting of the giant Shonisaurus sikanniensis, Guanlingsaurus liangae, and Shastasaurus pacificus to which the genus name Shastasaurus is applied. Shastasaurus liangae comb. nov. is from the Late Triassic (Carnian) Xiaowa Formation of Guizhou Province, southwestern China. The species combines a diminutive head with an entirely toothless and greatly reduced snout. The species also has by far the highest vertebral count among ichthyosaurs (86 presacral vertebrae and >110 caudal vertebrae), a count that is also very high for tetrapods in general. A reduced toothless snout and a diminutive head is also apparently present in the giant S. sikanniensis and presumably in S. pacificus.<h4>Conclusions/significance</h4>In analogy to many modern odontocetes, Shastasaurus is interpreted as a specialized suction feeder on unshelled cephalopods and fish, suggesting a unique but widespread Late Triassic diversification of toothless, suction-feeding ichthyosaurs. Suction feeding has not been hypothesized for any of the other diverse marine reptiles of the Mesozoic before, but in Shastasaurus may be linked to the Late Triassic minimum in atmospheric oxygen.
Project description:Research on the postcranial skeletal pneumaticity in pterosaurs is common in the literature, but most studies present only qualitative assessments. When quantitative, they are done on isolated bones. Here, we estimate the Air Space Proportion (ASP) obtained from micro-CT scans of the sequence from the sixth cervical to the fourth dorsal vertebra of an anhanguerine pterosaur to understand how pneumaticity is distributed in these bones. Pneumatisation of the vertebrae varied between 68 and 72% of their total volume. The neural arch showed higher ASP in all vertebrae. Anhanguerine vertebral ASP was generally higher than in sauropod vertebrae but lower than in most extant birds. The ASP observed here is lower than that calculated for the appendicular skeleton of other anhanguerian pterosaurs, indicating the potential existence of variation between axial and appendicular pneumatisation. The results point to a pattern in the distribution of the air space, which shows an increase in the area occupied by the trabecular bone in the craniocaudal direction of the vertebral series and, in each vertebra, an increase of the thickness of the trabeculae in the zygapophyses. This indicates that the distribution of pneumatic diverticula in anhanguerine vertebrae may not be associated with stochastic patterns.
Project description:We report five new specimens of xenorophid dolphins from North and South Carolina. Four of the specimens represent the xenorophid Albertocetus meffordorum, previously only known from the holotype skull. The other is a fragmentary petrosal from the upper Oligocene Belgrade Formation that we refer to Echovenator sp, indicating at least two xenorophids from that unit. Two of the Albertocetus meffordorum specimens are from the lower Oligocene Ashley Formation: 1) a partial skeleton with neurocranium, fragmentary mandible, ribs, vertebrae, and chevrons, and 2) an isolated braincase. The partial vertebral column indicates that Albertocetus retained the ancestral morphology and locomotory capabilities of basilosaurid archaeocetes, toothed mysticetes, and physeteroids, and caudal vertebrae that are as wide as tall suggest that the caudal peduncle, which occurs in all extant Cetacea, was either wide or lacking. CT data from the isolated braincase were used to generate a digital endocast of the cranial cavity. The estimated EQ of this specimen is relatively high for an Oligocene odontocete, and other aspects of the brain, such as its anteroposterior length and relative size of the temporal lobe, are intermediate in morphology between those of extant cetaceans and terrestrial artiodactyls. Ethmoturbinals are also preserved, and are similar in morphology and number to those described for the Miocene odontocete Squalodon. These fossils extend the temporal range of Albertocetus meffordorum into the early Oligocene, its geographic range into South Carolina, and expand our paleobiological understanding of the Xenorophidae.
Project description:Paleopathologies document skeletal damage in extinct organisms and can be used to infer the causes of injury, as well as aspects of related biology, ecology and behavior. To date, few studies have been undertaken on Jurassic marine reptiles, while ichthyosaur pathologies in particular have never been systematically evaluated. Here we survey 41 specimens of the apex predator ichthyosaur Temnodontosaurus from the Early Jurassic of southern Germany in order to document the range and absolute frequency of pathologies observed in this taxon as a function of the number of specimens examined. According to our analysis, most observed pathologies in Temnodontosaurus are force-induced traumas with signs of healing, possibly inflicted during aggressive interactions with conspecifics. When the material is preserved, broken ribs are correlated in most of the cases with traumas elsewhere in the skeleton such as cranial injuries. The range of cranial pathologies in Temnodontosaurus is similar to those reported for extinct cetaceans and mosasaurs, which were interpreted as traces of aggressive encounters. Nevertheless, Temnodontosaurus differs from these other marine amniotes in the absence of pathologies in the vertebral column, consistent with the pattern previously documented in ichthyosaurs. We did not detect any instances of avascular necrosis in Temnodontosaurus from southern Germany, which may reflect a shallow diving life style. This study is intended to provide baseline data for the various types of observed pathologies in large ichthyosaurs occupying the 'apex predator' niche, and potentially clarifies aspects of species-specific behavior relative to other ichthyosaurs and marine amniotes.
Project description:<h4>Background</h4>Mammals are a highly diverse group, with body mass ranging from 2 g to 170 t, and encompassing species with terrestrial, aquatic, aerial, and subterranean lifestyles. The skeleton is involved in most aspects of vertebrate life history, but while previous macroevolutionary analyses have shown that structural, phylogenetic, and functional factors influence the gross morphology of skeletal elements, their inner structure has received comparatively little attention. Here we analysed bone structure of the humerus and mid-lumbar vertebrae across mammals and their correlations with different lifestyles and body size.<h4>Results</h4>We acquired bone structure parameters in appendicular and axial elements (humerus and mid-lumbar vertebra) from 190 species across therian mammals (placentals + marsupials). Our sample captures all transitions to aerial, fully aquatic, and subterranean lifestyles in extant therian clades. We found that mammalian bone structure is highly disparate and we show that the investigated vertebral structure parameters mostly correlate with body size, but not lifestyle, while the opposite is true for humeral parameters. The latter also show a high degree of convergence among the clades that have acquired specialised (non-terrestrial) lifestyles.<h4>Conclusions</h4>In light of phylogenetic, size, and functional factors, the distribution of each investigated structural parameter reveals patterns explaining the construction of appendicular and axial skeletal elements in mammalian species spanning most of the extant diversity of the clade in terms of body size and lifestyle. These patterns should be further investigated with analyses focused on specific lifestyle transitions that would ideally include key fossils.
Project description:The vertebral skeleton is a defining feature of vertebrate animals. However, the mode of vertebral segmentation varies considerably between major lineages. In tetrapods, adjacent somite halves recombine to form a single vertebra through the process of 'resegmentation'. In teleost fishes, there is considerable mixing between cells of the anterior and posterior somite halves, without clear resegmentation. To determine whether resegmentation is a tetrapod novelty, or an ancestral feature of jawed vertebrates, we tested the relationship between somites and vertebrae in a cartilaginous fish, the skate (<i>Leucoraja erinacea</i>). Using cell lineage tracing, we show that skate trunk vertebrae arise through tetrapod-like resegmentation, with anterior and posterior halves of each vertebra deriving from adjacent somites. We further show that tail vertebrae also arise through resegmentation, though with a duplication of the number of vertebrae per body segment. These findings resolve axial resegmentation as an ancestral feature of the jawed vertebrate body plan.