Abstract

Ontogenetic sequence reconstruction is challenging particularly for extinct taxa because of when, where, and how fossils preserve. Different methods of reconstruction exist, but the effects of preservational bias, the applicability of size-independent methods, and the prevalence of sequence polymorphism (intraspecific variation) remain unexplored for paleontological data. Here I compare five different methods of ontogenetic sequence reconstruction and their effects on the detection of sequence polymorphism, using a large collection of the extinct vertebrates Microbrachis pelikani and Hyloplesion longicostatum. The postcranial ossification sequences presented here for those taxa are the first examples known for extinct lepospondyls. Sequences were reconstructed according to skull length, trunk length, increasing number of ontogenetic events, majority-rule consensus, and Ontogenetic Sequence Analysis (OSA). Results generally were in agreement, demonstrating that paleontological data may be used to robustly reconstruct developmental patterns. When reconstructing sequences based on fossils, size-based methods and OSA are more objective and less dependent on preservational bias than other techniques. Apart from the other methods, OSA also allows for statistical analysis of observed and predicted polymorphism. However, OSA requires a large sample size to yield meaningful results, and size-based methods are justified in paleontological studies when sample size is limited by poor preservation. Different methods of reconstruction detected different patterns of sequence polymorphism, although across all methods the magnitude of sequence variation for M. pelikani and H. longicostatum (1.3−3.4%) was within the lower range of values reported for extant vertebrates. Compared with other extinct and extant tetrapods, all sequence reconstruction methods consistently showed that M. pelikani and H. longicostatum exhibit advanced ossification of the pubis and delayed ossification of the scapula. However, the postcranial ossification sequences of these two taxa largely are congruent with those of other tetrapods, suggesting an underlying conservative ancestral pattern that evolved early in tetrapod history.

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