Monday, October 27, 2008

Skull Shape & Crocodile Evolution

Cranial shape and correlated characters in crocodilian evolution. 2008. R. Sadleir and P. Makovivky. J. of Evol. Bio. 21: 1578 – 1596.

ABSTRACT: Crocodilians show a high degree of cranial variation and convergence throughout their 80 million-year fossil record that complicates their phylogenetic reconstruction. Conflicting phylogenetic results from different data partitions and character homoplasies typify crocodilian phylogeny, and differences between molecular and morphological phylogenetic hypotheses are believed to be associated with the slender-snout skull shape of Gavialis gangeticus and Tomistoma schlegelii. Slender-snout skulls are one of five identified eusuchian cranial ecomorph shape categories (ESCs) thought to reflect functional or ecological specialization.

This paper tested the effect of transitions among general, blunt and slender ESCs on cranial character-state distributions in phylogeny using the concentrated changes test. In addition, 'tree-free' character compatibility analysis of character independence was conducted on the morphological character matrix to determine if character correlations are observed independent of specific tree topologies.

Results suggest cranial ESCs do affect cranial character-state gains in phylogeny. Concentrated changes identify a broad suite of character-state changes that significantly correlate with transitions to slender, general and blunt ESCs on morphological, molecular and combined-data tree topologies, but numbers of correlated characters for each category differ according to topology.

Character compatibility analysis results do not mirror the concentrated changes test results and reflect hierarchically distributed support throughout the data. As cranial ESCs affect character-state transitions, it is possible that nonphylogenetic variables could affect inferences of crocodilian phylogeny by affecting cranial morphology.