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  1. Abstract Background

    Mammalian skeletons are largely formed before birth. Heterochronic changes in skeletal formation can be investigated by comparing the order of ossification for different elements of the skeleton. Due to the challenge of collecting prenatal specimens in viviparous taxa, opportunistically collected museum specimens provide the best material for studying prenatal skeletal development across many mammalian species. Previous studies have investigated ossification sequence in a range of mammalian species, but little is known about the pattern of bone formation in Carnivora. Carnivorans have diverse ecologies, diets, and biomechanical specializations and are well-suited for investigating questions in evolutionary biology. Currently, developmental data on carnivorans is largely limited to domesticated species. To expand available data on carnivoran skeletal development, we used micro-computed tomography (micro-CT) to non-invasively evaluate the degree of ossification in all prenatal carnivoran specimens housed in the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology. By coding the presence or absence of bones in each specimen, we constructed ossification sequences for each species. Parsimov-based genetic inference (PGi) was then used to identify heterochronic shifts between carnivoran lineages and reconstruct the ancestral ossification sequence of Carnivora.


    We used micro-CT to study prenatal ossification sequence in six carnivora species:Eumetopias jubatus(Steller sea lion,n = 6),Herpestes javanicus(small Indian mongoose,n = 1),Panthera leo(lion,n = 1),Urocyon cinereoargenteus(gray fox,n = 1),Ursus arctos arctos(Eurasian brown bear,n = 1), andViverricula indica(small Indian civet,n = 5). Due to the relatively later stage of collection for the available specimens, few heterochronic shifts were identified. Ossification sequences of feliform species showed complete agreement with the domestic cat. In caniforms, the bear and fox ossification sequences largely matched the dog, but numerous heterochronic shifts were identified in the sea lion.


    We use museum specimens to generate cranial and postcranial micro-CT data on six species split between the two major carnivoran clades: Caniformia and Feliformia. Our data suggest that the ossification sequence of domestic dogs and cats are likely good models for terrestrial caniforms and feliforms, respectively, but not pinnipeds.

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  2. Abstract

    This paper is the first in a two‐part series that charts the evolution of appendicular musculature along the mammalian stem lineage, drawing upon the exceptional fossil record of extinct synapsids. Here, attention is focused on muscles of the forelimb. Understanding forelimb muscular anatomy in extinct synapsids, and how this changed on the line to mammals, can provide important perspective for interpreting skeletal and functional evolution in this lineage, and how the diversity of forelimb functions in extant mammals arose. This study surveyed the osteological evidence for muscular attachments in extinct mammalian and nonmammalian synapsids, two extinct amniote outgroups, and a large selection of extant mammals, saurians, and salamanders. Observations were integrated into an explicit phylogenetic framework, comprising 73 character–state complexes covering all muscles crossing the shoulder, elbow, and wrist joints. These were coded for 33 operational taxonomic units spanning >330 Ma of tetrapod evolution, and ancestral state reconstruction was used to evaluate the sequence of muscular evolution along the stem lineage from Amniota to Theria. In addition to producing a comprehensive documentation of osteological evidence for muscle attachments in extinct synapsids, this work has clarified homology hypotheses across disparate taxa and helped resolve competing hypotheses of muscular anatomy in extinct species. The evolutionary history of mammalian forelimb musculature was a complex and nonlinear narrative, punctuated by multiple instances of convergence and concentrated phases of anatomical transformation. More broadly, this study highlights the great insight that a fossil‐based perspective can provide for understanding the assembly of novel body plans.

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  3. For the first 100+ million years of their evolutionary history, the majority of mammals were very small, and many exhibited relatively generalized locomotor ecologies. Among extant mammals, small-bodied, generalist species share similar hindlimb bone morphology and locomotor mechanics, but details of their musculature have not been investigated. To examine whether hindlimb muscle architecture properties are also similar, we dissected hindlimb muscles of the gray short-tailed opossum (Monodelphis domestica) and aggregated muscle properties from the literature for three other small-bodied mammals (Mus musculus, Rattus norvegicus, Cavia porcellus). We then studied hindlimb musculature from a whole-limb perspective and by separating the limb into nine anatomical regions. The region analysis explained substantially more variance in the data (r2: 0.601 > 0.074) but only detected six statistically significant pairwise species differences in muscle architecture properties. This finding suggests either deep conservation of therian hindlimb muscle properties or, more likely, a biomechanical constraint imposed by small body size. In addition, we find specialization for either large force production (i.e., PCSA) or longer active working ranges (i.e. long muscle fascicles) in proximal limb regions but neither specialization in more distal limb regions. This functional pattern may be key for small mammals to traverse across uneven and shifting substrates, regardless of environment. These findings are particularly relevant for researchers seeking to reconstruct and model soft tissue properties of extinct mammals during the early evolutionary history of the clade. 
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  4. In evolutionary biomechanics, musculoskeletal computer models of extant and extinct taxa are often used to estimate joint range of motion (ROM) and muscle moment arms (MMAs), two parameters which form the basis of functional inferences. However, relatively few experimental studies have been performed to validate model outputs. Previously, we built a model of the short-beaked echidna ( Tachyglossus aculeatus ) forelimb using a traditional modelling workflow, and in this study we evaluate its behaviour and outputs using experimental data. The echidna is an unusual animal representing an edge-case for model validation: it uses a unique form of sprawling locomotion, and possesses a suite of derived anatomical features, in addition to other features reminiscent of extinct early relatives of mammals. Here we use diffusible iodine-based contrast-enhanced computed tomography (diceCT) alongside digital and traditional dissection to evaluate muscle attachments, modelled muscle paths, and the effects of model alterations on the MMA outputs. We use X-ray Reconstruction of Moving Morphology (XROMM) to compare ex vivo joint ROM to model estimates based on osteological limits predicted via single-axis rotation, and to calculate experimental MMAs from implanted muscles using a novel geometric method. We also add additional levels of model detail, in the form of muscle architecture, to evaluate how muscle torque might alter the inferences made from MMAs alone, as is typical in evolutionary studies. Our study identifies several key findings that can be applied to future models. 1) A light-touch approach to model building can generate reasonably accurate muscle paths, and small alterations in attachment site seem to have minimal effects on model output. 2) Simultaneous movement through multiple degrees of freedom, including rotations and translation at joints, are necessary to ensure full joint ROM is captured; however, single-axis ROM can provide a reasonable approximation of mobility depending on the modelling objectives. 3) Our geometric method of calculating MMAs is consistent with model-predicted MMAs calculated via partial velocity, and is a potentially useful tool for others to create and validate musculoskeletal models. 4) Inclusion of muscle architecture data can change some functional inferences, but in many cases reinforced conclusions based on MMA alone. 
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  5. Skeletal muscle mass, architecture and force-generating capacity are well known to scale with body size in animals, both throughout ontogeny and across species. Investigations of limb muscle scaling in terrestrial amniotes typically focus on individual muscles within select clades, but here this question was examined at the level of the whole limb across amniotes generally. In particular, the present study explored how muscle mass, force-generating capacity (measured by physiological cross-sectional area) and internal architecture (fascicle length) scales in the fore- and hindlimbs of extant mammals, non-avian saurians (‘reptiles’) and bipeds (birds and humans). Sixty species spanning almost five orders of magnitude in body mass were investigated, comprising previously published architectural data and new data obtained via dissections of the opossum Didelphis virginiana and the tegu lizard Salvator merianae . Phylogenetic generalized least squares was used to determine allometric scaling slopes (exponents) and intercepts, to assess whether patterns previously reported for individual muscles or functional groups were retained at the level of the whole limb, and to test whether mammals, reptiles and bipeds followed different allometric trajectories. In general, patterns of scaling observed in individual muscles were also observed in the whole limb. Reptiles generally have proportionately lower muscle mass and force-generating capacity compared to mammals, especially at larger body size, and bipeds exhibit strong to extreme positive allometry in the distal hindlimb. Remarkably, when muscle mass was accounted for in analyses of muscle force-generating capacity, reptiles, mammals and bipeds almost ubiquitously followed a single common scaling pattern, implying that differences in whole-limb force-generating capacity are principally driven by differences in muscle mass, not internal architecture. In addition to providing a novel perspective on skeletal muscle allometry in animals, the new dataset assembled was used to generate pan-amniote statistical relationships that can be used to predict muscle mass or force-generating capacity in extinct amniotes, helping to inform future reconstructions of musculoskeletal function in the fossil record. 
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  6. Monotremes are a group of egg-laying mammals, possessing a mosaic of ancestral and derived anatomical features. Despite much interest in monotremes from phylogenetic, morphological, and ecological perspectives, they have been the subject of relatively few biomechanical studies. In this study, we examined shoulder and proximal forelimb muscle anatomy and architecture in the short-beaked echidna, Tachyglossus aculeatus, through contrast-enhanced computed tomography and gross dissection. Muscle architecture is a major determinant of muscle function and can indicate specialized muscle roles, such as the capacity for generating large forces (through large physiological cross-sectional area, PCSA) or working ranges (through long fascicle lengths). We hypothesized that some muscles would exhibit architectural specializations convergent with other fossorial and/or sprawling animals, and that other muscles would reflect the echidna’s unusual anatomy and locomotor style. Instead, we found the shoulder and proximal forelimb muscles in echidna to have little variation in their architecture. The muscles generally had long fascicles and small-to-intermediate PCSAs, consistent with force production over a wide working range. Further, muscles did not show overt differences in architecture that, in therian mammals, have been linked to increased forelimb mobility and the transition from sprawling to parasagittal posture. Our measures of architectural disparity placed the echidna closer to the tegu lizard than other sprawling fossorial mammals (e.g., mole). The low architectural diversity found in the echidna’s shoulder and proximal forelimb muscles is interpreted as a lack of functional specialization into distinct roles. We hope our study will contribute to greater understanding of monotreme anatomy and biomechanical function, and to the reconstruction of musculoskeletal evolution in mammals. 
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  7. The evolution of upright limb posture in mammals may have enabled modifications of the forelimb for diverse locomotor ecologies. A rich fossil record of non-mammalian synapsids holds the key to unraveling the transition from “sprawling” to “erect” limb function in the precursors to mammals, but a detailed understanding of muscle functional anatomy is a necessary prerequisite to reconstructing postural evolution in fossils. Here we characterize the gross morphology and internal architecture of muscles crossing the shoulder joint in two morphologically-conservative extant amniotes that form a phylogenetic and morpho-functional bracket for non-mammalian synapsids: the Argentine black and white tegu Salvator merianae and the Virginia opossum Didelphis virginiana . By combining traditional physical dissection of cadavers with nondestructive three-dimensional digital dissection, we find striking similarities in muscle organization and architectural parameters. Despite the wide phylogenetic gap between our study species, distal muscle attachments are notably similar, while differences in proximal muscle attachments are driven by modifications to the skeletal anatomy of the pectoral girdle that are well-documented in transitional synapsid fossils. Further, correlates for force production, physiological cross-sectional area (PCSA), muscle gearing (pennation), and working range (fascicle length) are statistically indistinguishable for an unexpected number of muscles. Functional tradeoffs between force production and working range reveal muscle specializations that may facilitate increased girdle mobility, weight support, and active stabilization of the shoulder in the opossum—a possible signal of postural transformation. Together, these results create a foundation for reconstructing the musculoskeletal anatomy of the non-mammalian synapsid pectoral girdle with greater confidence, as we demonstrate by inferring shoulder muscle PCSAs in the fossil non-mammalian cynodont Massetognathus pascuali . 
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