A new role for joint mobility in reconstructing vertebrate locomotor evolution

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2021 Feb 16;118(7):e2023513118. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2023513118.


Reconstructions of movement in extinct animals are critical to our understanding of major transformations in vertebrate locomotor evolution. Estimates of joint range of motion (ROM) have long been used to exclude anatomically impossible joint poses from hypothesized gait cycles. Here we demonstrate how comparative ROM data can be harnessed in a different way to better constrain locomotor reconstructions. As a case study, we measured nearly 600,000 poses from the hindlimb joints of the Helmeted Guineafowl and American alligator, which represent an extant phylogenetic bracket for the archosaurian ancestor and its pseudosuchian (crocodilian line) and ornithodiran (bird line) descendants. We then used joint mobility mapping to search for a consistent relationship between full potential joint mobility and the subset of joint poses used during locomotion. We found that walking and running poses are predictably located within full mobility, revealing additional constraints for reconstructions of extinct archosaurs. The inferential framework that we develop here can be expanded to identify ROM-based constraints for other animals and, in turn, will help to unravel the history of vertebrate locomotor evolution.

Keywords: biomechanics; joint mobility; locomotor reconstruction; range of motion; vertebrate evolution.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Alligators and Crocodiles / anatomy & histology
  • Alligators and Crocodiles / physiology
  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Joints / physiology*
  • Locomotion*
  • Range of Motion, Articular*