Integration and dissociation of limb elements in flying vertebrates: a comparison of pterosaurs, birds and bats

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Flapping flight has evolved independently in three vertebrate clades: pterosaurs, birds and bats. Each clade has a unique flight mechanism involving different elements of the forelimb. Here, patterns of limb integration are examined using partial correlation analysis within species and matrix correlation analysis across species to test whether the evolution of flapping flight has involved developmental dissociation of the serial homologues in the fore- and hind limb in each clade. Our sample included seven species of birds, six species of bats, and three species of pterosaurs for which sufficient sample sizes were available. Our results showed that, in contrast to results previously reported for quadrupedal mammals, none of the three clades demonstrated significant integration between serial homologues in the fore- and hind limb. Unexpectedly, there were few consistent patterns of within-forelimb correlations across each clade, suggesting that wing integration is not strongly constrained by functional relationships. However, there was significant integration within the hind limbs of pterosaurs and birds, but not bats, possibly reflecting the differing functions of hind limbs (e.g. upright support vs. suspension) in these clades.

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