In this paper, I survey hindlimb and pelvic anatomy across non-avian dinosaurs and analyze these within a cladistic framework to quantify patterns of change within the locomotor apparatus. Specifically, I attempt to identify where homoplasy constitutes parallelism and may thereby be used to infer similar selective pressures on hindlimb function. Traditional methods of discrete character optimization are used along with two methods for evaluating changes in continuous characters in a phylogenetic context (squared-change parsimony and clade rank correlation). Resultant patterns are evaluated in light of the biomechanics of locomotion and the relationship between form and function in extant terrestrial vertebrates.
Although non-avian dinosaurian locomotor morphology is strikingly uniform, these analyses reveal the repeated derivations of several morphological features that have potential relevance for hindlimb locomotor function. Anterior and posterior iliac expansion, a medially oriented femoral head, and an elevated femoral lesser trochanter each evolved independently multiple times within Dinosauria. These changes probably reflect enlargement of several hindlimb muscles as well as a general switch in their predominant function from abduction-adduction (characteristic of “sprawling” limb postures) to protraction-retraction (characteristic of parasagittal, or “erect,” limb postures). Several “avian” characteristics are shared with more basal theropods, and many were acquired convergently in other dinosaurian lineages. The evolution of the avian hindlimb therefore represents a cumulative acquisition of characters, many of which were quite far removed in time and function from the origin of flight.