Skip to main content
Dryad logo

Early diversification of avian limb morphology and the role of modularity in the locomotor evolution of crown birds

Citation

Eliason, Chad; Proffitt, James; Clarke, Julia A. (2022), Early diversification of avian limb morphology and the role of modularity in the locomotor evolution of crown birds, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.f4qrfj70k

Abstract

High disparity among avian forelimb and hind limb segments in crown birds relative to non-avialan theropod dinosaurs, potentially driven by the origin of separate forelimb and hind limb locomotor modules, has been linked to the evolution of diverse avian locomotor behaviors. However, this hypothesized relationship has not been quantitatively investigated in a phylogenetic framework. We assessed the relationship between the evolution of limb morphology and locomotor behavior by comparing a numerical proxy for locomotor diversity to morphospace sizes derived from a dataset of 1241 extant species. We then estimated how limb disparity accumulated during the crown avian radiation. Lastly, we tested whether limb segments evolved independently between each limb module using phylogenetically informed regressions. Disparity increased significantly with behavioral diversity after accounting for clade age and species richness. We found that forelimb disparity accumulated rapidly early in avian evolution, whereas hindlimb disparity accumulated later, in more recent divergences. We recovered little support for strong correlations between forelimb and hind limb morphology. We posit that these findings support independent evolution of locomotor modules that enabled the striking morphological and behavioral diversity of extant birds.

Funding

National Science Foundation, Award: DEB 0949897

National Science Foundation, Award: EP 2112468