Theropod forelimb design and evolution

Authors

  • KEVIN M. MIDDLETON,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island 02912, U.S.A.
      *Email: Kevin_Middleton@brown.edu
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  • STEPHEN M. GATESY

    1. Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island 02912, U.S.A.
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*Email: Kevin_Middleton@brown.edu

Abstract

We examined the relationship between forelimb design and function across the 230-million-year history of theropod evolution. Forelimb disparity was assessed by plotting the relative contributions of the three main limb elements on a ternary diagram. Theropods were divided into five functional groups: predatory, reduced, flying, wing-propelled diving, and flighdess. Forelimbs which maintained their primitive function, predation, are similarly proportioned, but non-avian theropods with highly reduced forelimbs have relatively longer humeri. Despite the dramatically different forces imparted by the evolution of flight, forelimb proportions of basal birds are only slighdy different from those of their non-avian relatives. An increase in disparity accompanied the subsequent radiation of birds. Each transition to flightlessness has been accompanied by an increase in relative humeral length, which results from relatively short distal limb elements. We introduce theoretical predictions based on five biomechanical and developmental factors that may have influenced the evolution of theropod limb proportions.

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