Thursday, January 17, 2019

[Paleontology • 2019] Reverse-engineering the Locomotion of A Stem Amniote, Orobates pabsti

Photomontage of OroBOT and reconstructed Orobates pabsti 

Nyakatura, Melo, Horvat, et al., 2019. 

Reconstructing the locomotion of extinct vertebrates offers insights into their palaeobiology and helps to conceptualize major transitions in vertebrate evolution. However, estimating the locomotor behaviour of a fossil species remains a challenge because of the limited information preserved and the lack of a direct correspondence between form and function. The evolution of advanced locomotion on land—that is, locomotion that is more erect, balanced and mechanically power-saving than is assumed of anamniote early tetrapods—has previously been linked to the terrestrialization and diversification of amniote lineages. To our knowledge, no reconstructions of the locomotor characteristics of stem amniotes based on multiple quantitative methods have previously been attempted: previous methods have relied on anatomical features alone, ambiguous locomotor information preserved in ichnofossils or unspecific modelling of locomotor dynamics. Here we quantitatively examine plausible gaits of the stem amniote Orobates pabsti, a species that is known from a complete body fossil preserved in association with trackways8. We reconstruct likely gaits that match the footprints, and investigate whether Orobates exhibited locomotor characteristics that have previously been linked to the diversification of crown amniotes. Our integrative methodology uses constraints derived from biomechanically relevant metrics, which also apply to extant tetrapods. The framework uses in vivo assessment of locomotor mechanics in four extant species to guide an anatomically informed kinematic simulation of Orobates, as well as dynamic simulations and robotics to filter the parameter space for plausible gaits. The approach was validated using two extant species that have different morphologies, gaits and footprints. Our metrics indicate that Orobates exhibited more advanced locomotion than has previously been assumed for earlier tetrapods7,9, which suggests that advanced terrestrial locomotion preceded the diversification of crown amniotes. We provide an accompanying website for the exploration of the filters that constrain our simulations, which will allow revision of our approach using new data, assumptions or methods.

Photomontage of OroBOT and reconstructed Orobates pabsti by Jonas Lauströer, Amir Andikfar and John A. Nyakatura; photo of OroBOT from Tomislav Horvat and Kamilo Melo.

John A. Nyakatura, Kamilo Melo, Tomislav Horvat, Kostas Karakasiliotis, Vivian R. Allen, Amir Andikfar, Emanuel Andrada, Patrick Arnold, Jonas Lauströer, John R. Hutchinson, Martin S. Fischer and Auke J. Ijspeert. 2019. Reverse-engineering the Locomotion of A Stem Amniote. Nature. 565; 351–355.   DOI: 10.1038/s41586-018-0851-2 

Scientists Used a Robot to Study How Prehistoric Lizards Walked via @SmithsonianMag
Ancient animal walked tall, surprising scientists via @NatGeoScience