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Title: The biomechanics of vertebrae over evolutionary transitions between water and land: examples from early Tetrapoda and Crocodylomorpha
Author: Molnar, Julia Louise
ISNI:       0000 0004 5353 9042
Awarding Body: Royal Veterinary College (University of London)
Current Institution: Royal Veterinary College (University of London)
Date of Award: 2014
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With the transition from water to land in early tetrapods, and with transitions to secondarily aquatic habits in numerous tetrapod lineages, the functions of the vertebral column were transformed. Morphological changes in the vertebral column are a major mechanism by which vertebrates accommodate changes in locomotor forces. Although morphometric measurements from vertebrae have been correlated with axial mechanics and locomotor behaviour in numerous extant taxa, few studies have sought to test or apply these principles in non-mammalian tetrapods. In my thesis, I reconstructed the vertebral mechanics of fossil taxa that represent intermediate stages in water/land transitions of their lineages. Study taxa were the basal tetrapod Pederpes finneyae, which is one of the earliest known tetrapods to show indications of terrestrial adaptation, and three extinct crocodylomorphs, Terrestrisuchus, Protosuchus, and Pelagosaurus, which span the spectrum from fully terrestrial to primarily aquatic. I used a combination of morphometric measurements and 3D virtual models of bone morphology to estimate intervertebral joint stiffness and range of motion. For comparison, I also reconstructed the vertebral mechanics of four related extant taxa. Correlations between vertebral morphometrics and axial stiffness were statistically tested in (cadaveric) modem crocodylians, and I validated my methodology by comparing my results with data from extant taxa. My results reveal similarities and differences between the two lineages. Intervertebral joint compliance and range of motion tended to decrease with adaptation for terrestrial locomotion, as expected, but this trend seems to have reversed in later forms. Additionally, vertebral mechanics may have been largely controlled by different structural mechanisms in different lineages. The relationship between biomechanics of vertebrae and environment appears to be more complex than previously supposed. However, approaches that combine experimental measurements from extant animals, thorough analysis of fossil morphology, and explicit phylogenetic considerations have the potential to greatly improve locomotor reconstructions of extinct taxa.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Vertebrates – Locomotion, Evolution, Vertebrates, Fossil, Vertebrates - Evolution