The potential utility of postnatalskeletal developmental patterns in squamate phylogenetics


Present address: Departmentof Geological Sciences, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin,Texas, 78712, USA. E-mail:


Postnatal patterns of skeletal development, includingthe sequence of appearance of ossification centres and the distributionof sesamoids, appear to be highly conserved species-level phenomenain squamates. As such, they are a potential source of charactersfor phylogenetic inquiry. These patterns, from 21 species representing14 crown squamate clades, form the basis for two analyses. In thefirst, the sequence of postnatal skeletal events is coded as charactersusing the sequence unit approach. This analysis reveals that thesequence of postnatal skeletal events might be useful for determiningrelationships at or above the level of crown clades, but not amongthem. The second analysis utilizes discrete data from postnatalskeletal development, such as the presence/absence of sesamoidsand the number of secondary centres in epiphyseal cartilages. Thesediscrete data appear capable of recovering the deeper divergenceswithin Squamata, but evolve too slowly to be informative at thelevel of crown clades. Thus, patterns of postnatal skeletal developmenthave the potential to help illuminate relationships throughout thesquamate tree. Further progress in this area will require the examinationof additional squamate species, the exploration of alternative codingschemes for developmental sequences, and comparable postnatal datafor Sphenodon. © 2002 The Linnean Societyof London, Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2002, 136,277−313.