Osteology, fossil record and palaeodiversity of the European lizards

in Amphibia-Reptilia
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The capability of palaeontologists to identify fossil remains of a particular group of vertebrates strongly depends on the knowledge they have of its comparative osteology and on the actual presence of diagnostic differences among the considered taxa. This could have a relevant influence on the study of palaeodiversity, since a low recognisability causes a loss of data when trying to reconstruct the history of taxa that lived on Earth in the past. Currently, more than 6000 extant species of lizards and worm lizards are known, and new ones continue to be discovered, mainly based on molecular data. But are we able to recognise this high diversity using osteology? As far as European taxa are concerned, the osteological recognisability of non-snake squamates is very low: only 31% of the extant European taxa can be identified based on their skeletal morphology. This is balanced partially by the fact that most recognisable taxa have been actually recognised in the fossil record, suggesting that the lost data are mainly due to the scarce knowledge of the comparative osteology of these reptiles and less influenced by other biases, such as taphonomic or collection biases. In this context, specimen-level phylogenetic analysis has proved to be a useful tool to identify diagnostic combinations of osteological features, at least for lacertid species, as evidenced by a case study focused on the genus Lacerta.

Amphibia-Reptilia

Publication of the Societas Europaea Herpetologica

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References

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Figures

  • Recognisability of extant European lizards at family, genus and species levels. Numbers inside the columns represent the exact percentage of recognisable taxa and their number compared to the total number of family, genera and species respectively (between parentheses).

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  • Hierarchical level of the recognisability in the different families of European lizards and worm lizards: percentage of extant species recognisable at family level is depicted in black, percentage at genus level in dark grey, percentage at species level in white, percentage at subfamily or species complex level in light grey. Numbers inside the columns represent the exact percentage of extant species recognisable at a specific level and their number compared to the total number of species included in the family (between parentheses). Abbreviations: Ag, Agamidae; Ch, Chamaeleonidae; Sp, Sphaerodactylidae; Ge, Gekkonidae; Ph, Phyllodactylidae; La, Lacertidae; Sc, Scincidae; An, Anguidae; Bl, Blanidae.

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  • Strict consensus tree of 9 MPTs resulting from a constrained search forcing all specimens of Lacerta into a monophyletic clade (as confirmed by phylogenetic studies based on molecular data). All but one specimen (L. viridis MNCN 16504, marked in white) were recovered in monophyletic clades together with the other members of their species (highlighted by the grey rectangles). The character states uniting these clades at their base (indicated by dark grey dots) can be interpreted as autapomorphic combination of osteological traits of the respective species, and used to identify fossil material. The questionable position of MNCN 16504 is probably due to the lack of cranial material (the specimen only preserves a partial vertebral column).

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  • Number of articles dealing with European lizard osteology per 10 years from the 1850s to today.

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