The lissamphibian humerus and elbow joint, and the origins of modern amphibians



The origins and evolution of the three major clades of modern amphibians are still a source of controversy, and no general consensus exists as to their relationship to the various known Paleozoic taxa. This may indicate that additional character complexes should be studied to resolve their phylogenetic relationship. The salamander elbow joint has been fundamentally misinterpreted in previous morphological descriptions. In caudates and anurans, both the radius and ulna (fused in anurans) articulate with the characteristically large capitulum (radial condyle), although part of the ulnar articulating surface fits into to the smooth trochlear region. The salamander “ulnar condyle” of previous descriptions is in fact the entepicondyle. The condition seen in batrachians (i.e., salamanders and frogs) may be a lissamphibian synapomorphy because the elbow region of the primitive fossil caecilian Eocaecilia resembles those of frogs and salamanders. In addition to the large and bulbous capitulum, all lissamphibian humeri lack an entepicondylar foramen, and possess a distally pointing entepicondyle, a low and rounded ectepicondyle, and an elongated shaft. These characters are identified in key fossil forms to assess the support for the different hypotheses proposed for the evolutionary origins of lissamphibians. Temnospondyli is the only group of early tetrapods that shows a progressive evolution of lissamphibian traits in the humerus and elbow joint. Furthermore, among Paleozoic taxa, the dissorophoid temnospondyl Doleserpeton annectens is the only taxon that has the full set of humeral features shared by all lissamphibians. These results add support for the theory of a monophyletic origin of lissamphibians from dissorophoidtemnospondyls. J. Morphol., 2009. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.