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Title: Independent origin of large labyrinth size in turtles
Abstract The labyrinth of the vertebrate inner ear is a sensory system that governs the perception of head rotations. Central hypotheses predict that labyrinth shape and size are related to ecological adaptations, but this is under debate and has rarely been tested outside of mammals. We analyze the evolution of labyrinth morphology and its ecological drivers in living and fossil turtles, an understudied group that underwent multiple locomotory transitions during 230 million years of evolution. We show that turtles have unexpectedly large labyrinths that evolved during the origin of aquatic habits. Turtle labyrinths are relatively larger than those of mammals, and comparable to many birds, undermining the hypothesis that labyrinth size correlates directly with agility across vertebrates. We also find that labyrinth shape variation does not correlate with ecology in turtles, undermining the widespread expectation that reptilian labyrinth shapes convey behavioral signal, and demonstrating the importance of understudied groups, like turtles.  more » « less
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Nature Communications
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National Science Foundation
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