Abstract

Understanding morphological integration is one of the central goals of evolutionary developmental biology. Despite its applicability to questions of paleontological interest, there are few studies on integration in fossil vertebrates. In this study, we examine limb integration in the Lower Jurassic ichthyosaur Stenopterygius quadriscissus, with the aim of examining the effect of ontogeny and anagenetic changes over short geological time spans on metrics of limb integration. Both ontogenetic and stratigraphic effects had a significant influence on measured values of integration, the identity of strongly integrated elements, and some common ratio values such as the relative integration of the forelimb to the hind limb, or within-limb to between-limb integration. Ontogenetic effects were relatively greater, although this could be linked to sample size. Although adults showed the lowest levels of overall integration, they possessed high levels of integration between serially homologous elements, something that was unexpected due to strong divergence in limb size and perhaps functional differences in derived ichthyosaurs. Ontogenetic differences in the relative integration of the forelimb to the hind limb are probably related to early locomotor demands on the forelimb. We conclude that if samples are pooled, the resulting pattern of integration may not reflect any one subsample but will be a composite created through the superposition of several variables. Pooling data in paleontological studies of integration has a non-trivial effect on the results obtained.

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