Macroevolutionary diversity of amniote limb proportions predicted by developmental interactions


  • Conflicts of interest: None.

Correspondence to: Nathan M. Young, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, University of California, San Francisco General Hospital, Building 9, Room 346, 2550 23rd Street, San Francisco, CA 94110.



Mammals, birds, and reptiles exhibit a remarkable diversity of limb proportions. These evolved differences are thought to reflect selection for biomechanical, postural, and locomotor requirements primarily acting on independent variation in later fetal and postnatal segmental growth. However, earlier conserved developmental events also have the potential to impact the evolvability of limb proportions by limiting or biasing initial variation among segments. Notably, proximo-distal patterning of the amniote limb through activation–inhibition dynamics predicts that initial proportions of segments should exhibit both tradeoffs between stylopod and autopod and a diagnostic reduction in variance of the zeugopod. Here it is demonstrated that this developmental “design rule” predicts patterns of macroevolutionary diversity despite the effects of variation in segmental growth over ontogeny, lineage-specific differences in phylogenetic history, or functional adaptation. These results provide critical comparative evidence of a conserved Turing-like mechanism in proximo-distal limb segmentation, and suggest that development has played a previously unrecognized role in the evolvability of limb proportions in a wide range of amniote taxa. J. Exp. Zool. (Mol. Dev. Evol.) 320B: 420–427, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.