Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Ichthyostega Walks The Walk

Three-dimensional limb joint mobility in the early tetrapod Ichthyostega. 2012. S. Pierce, et al. Nature, published online May, 23.

Abstract: The origin of tetrapods and the transition from swimming to walking was a pivotal step in the evolution and diversification of terrestrial vertebrates. During this time, modifications of the limbs—particularly the specialization of joints and the structures that guide their motions—fundamentally changed the ways in which early tetrapods could move. Nonetheless, little is known about the functional consequences of limb anatomy in early tetrapods and how that anatomy influenced locomotion capabilities at this very critical stage in vertebrate evolution.

Here we present a three-dimensional reconstruction of the iconic Devonian tetrapod Ichthyostega and a quantitative and comparative analysis of limb mobility in this early tetrapod. We show that Ichthyostega could not have employed typical tetrapod locomotory behaviours, such as lateral sequence walking. In particular, it lacked the necessary rotary motions in its limbs to push the body off the ground and move the limbs in an alternating sequence.

Given that long-axis rotation was present in the fins of tetrapodomorph fishes, it seems that either early tetrapods evolved through an initial stage of restricted shoulder and hip joint mobility or that Ichthyostega was unique in this respect. We conclude that early tetrapods with the skeletal morphology and limb mobility of Ichthyostega were unlikely to have made some of the recently described Middle Devonian trackways.