Evidence at hand: Diversity, functional implications, and locomotor prediction in intrinsic hand proportions of diprotodontian marsupials

Vera Weisbecker, David I. Warton

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39 Citations (Scopus)


Knowledge about the diversity, locomotor adaptations, and evolution of the marsupial forelimb is limited, resulting in an underrepresentation of marsupials in comparative anatomical literature on mammalian forelimb anatomy. This study investigated hand proportions in the diverse marsupial order Diprotodontia. Fifty-two measurements of 95 specimens representing 47 species, as well as 6 non-diprotodontian specimens, were explored using principal components analysis (PCA). Bootstrapping was used to assess the reliability of the loadings. Phylogenetically independent contrasts and phylogenetic ANOVA were used to test for correlation with size and functional adaptation of forelimbs for locomotor habit, scored as arboreal vs. terrestrial. Analysis of first principal component (PC1) scores revealed significant differences between arboreal and terrestrial species, and was related to relative slenderness of their phalangeal elements. Both locomotor groups displayed allometry along PC1 scores, but with different intercepts such that PC1 discriminated between the two locomotor habits almost completely. PC2 separated some higher-level clades and burrowing species. Analysis of locomotor predictors commonly applied by palaeontologists indicates that ratios between proximal and intermediate phalanges were unsuitable as predictors of arboreality/terrestriality, but the phalangeal index was more effective. From PCA results, a phalangeal slenderness ratio was developed which proved to be a useful discriminator, suggesting that a single unallocated phalanx can be used for an impression of locomotor mode in fossils. Most Diprotodontia are laterally paraxonic or ectaxonic, with the exception of digging species whose hands are medially paraxonic. Our results complement those of studies on placental mammals, suggesting that the demands of arboreality, terrestriality, or frequent digging on intrinsic hand proportions are met with similar anatomical adaptations in marsupials.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1469-1485
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Morphology
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Arboreal
  • Autopodial
  • Diprotodontia
  • Manus
  • Phalangeal index
  • Terrestrial


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