Field of Science

Phytosaurs as the Likely Trackmaker for Apatopus from the Late Triassic of North America

Padian, K., Li, C., and J. Pchelnikova. 2009. The trackmaker of Apatopus (Late Triassic: North America): implications for the evolution of archosaur stance and gait. Palaeontology (early view). doi: 10.1111/j.1475-4983.2009.00924.x

Abstract - For some decades, a major focus of research has been on how locomotor modes changed in some archosaurian reptiles from a more or less ‘sprawling’ to an ‘erect’ posture, whether there were discrete intermediate stages, and how many times ‘erect’ posture evolved. The classic paradigm for the evolution of stance and gait in archosaurs, a three-stage transition from sprawling to ‘semi-erect’ to erect posture, has been replaced by a subtler understanding of a continuum of changing limb joint angles. We suggest a further separation of terminology related to stance vs. gait so as not to entail different processes: ‘sprawling’ and ‘erect’ should refer to continua of stance; ‘rotatory’ and ‘parasagittal’ are more appropriate ends of a continuum that describes the motions of gait. We show that the Triassic trackway Apatopus best fits the anatomy and proportions of phytosaurs, based on a new reconstruction of their foot skeleton; it is less likely to have been made by another pseudosuchian or nonarchosaurian archosauromorph. Moreover, the trackmaker was performing the high walk. A phytosaurian trackmaker would imply that the common ancestor of pseudosuchians, and therefore archosaurs could approximate the high walk (depending on phylogeny), and if so, erect stance and parasagittal gait did not evolve independently in pseudosuchians and ornithosuchians, although the kinematic mechanisms differed in the two groups. It remains to be seen how far outside Archosauria, if at all, more or less erect posture and parasagittal gait may have evolved.

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