Skip to main content

Data from: Incomplete convergence of gliding-mammal skeletons

Cite this dataset

Grossnickle, David (2021). Data from: Incomplete convergence of gliding-mammal skeletons [Dataset]. Dryad.


Ecology and biomechanics play central roles in the generation of phenotypic diversity. When unrelated taxa invade a similar ecological niche, biomechanical demands can drive convergent morphological transformations. Thus, identifying and examining convergence helps to elucidate the key catalysts of phenotypic change. Gliding mammals are often presented as a classic case of convergent evolution because they independently evolved in numerous clades, each possessing patagia (‘wing’ membranes) that generate lift during gliding. We use phylogenetic comparative methods to test whether the skeletal morphologies of the six clades of extant gliding mammals demonstrate convergence. Our results indicate that glider skeletons are convergent, with glider groups consistently evolving proportionally longer, more gracile limbs than arborealists, likely to increase patagial surface area. Nonetheless, we interpret gliders to represent incomplete convergence because (i) evolutionary model-fitting analyses do not indicate strong selective pressures for glider trait optima, (ii) the three marsupial glider groups diverge rather than converge, and (iii) the gliding groups remain separated in morphospace (rather than converging on a single morphotype), which is reflected by an unexpectedly high level of morphological disparity. That glider skeletons are morphologically diverse is further demonstrated by fossil gliders from the Mesozoic Era, which possess unique skeletal characteristics that are absent in extant gliders. Glider morphologies may be strongly influenced by factors such as body size and attachment location of patagia on the forelimb, which can vary among clades. Thus, convergence in gliders appears to be driven by a simple lengthening of the limbs, whereas additional skeletal traits reflect nuances of the gliding apparatus that are distinct among different evolutionary lineages. Our unexpected results add to growing evidence that incomplete convergence is prevalent in vertebrate clades, even among classic cases of convergence, and they highlight the importance of examining form-function relationships in light of phylogeny, biomechanics, and the fossil record.


State Key Laboratory of Palaeobiology and Stratigraphy, Award: 183106

University of Washington

University of Chicago

Division of Biological Infrastructure, Award: DBI‐1812126

National Science Foundation, Award: Graduate Research Fellowship