First use of anatomical networks to study fin-limb transition

Our recent paper, freely available ( is the first attempt to use network theory to study the fins-limbs transitions, and to address the long-standing, unresolved question: are the similarities between the upper and lower limbs of tetrapods ancestral (serial homology) or derived (parallelism)?
Published in Ecology & Evolution
First use of anatomical networks to study fin-limb transition

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Tetrapods evolved from within the lobe-finned fishes around 370 Ma. The evolution of limbs from lobe-fins entailed a major reorganization of the skeletal and muscular anatomy of appendages in early tetrapods. Concurrently, a degree of similarity between pectoral and pelvic appendages also evolved. Here, we compared the anatomy of appendages in extant lobe-finned fishes (Latimeria and Neoceratodus) and anatomically plesiomorphic amphibians (Ambystoma, Salamandra) and amniotes (Sphenodon) to trace and reconstruct the musculoskeletal changes that took place during the fins-to-limbs transition. We quantified the anatomy of appendages using network analysis. First, we built network models—in which nodes represent bones and muscles, and links represent their anatomical connections—and then we measured network parameters related to their anatomical integration, heterogeneity, and modularity. Our results reveal an evolutionary transition toward less integrated, more modular appendages. We interpret this transition as a diversification of muscle functions in tetrapods compared to lobe-finned fishes. Limbs and lobe-fins show also a greater similarity between their pectoral and pelvic appendages than ray-fins do. These findings on extant species provide a basis for future quantitative and comprehensive reconstructions of the anatomy of limbs in early tetrapod fossils, and a way to better understand the fins-to-limbs transition.

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