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Data from: Adaptation and constraint in the evolution of the mammalian backbone

Cite this dataset

Jones, Katrina E.; Benitez, Lorena; Angielczyk, Kenneth D.; Pierce, Stephanie E. (2018). Data from: Adaptation and constraint in the evolution of the mammalian backbone [Dataset]. Dryad.


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.

Usage notes


National Science Foundation, Award: EAR-1524523, EAR-1524938