Diversity of pterosaur crania from phylogenetic and ontogenetic perspectives

Theme: Evolution & Adaptation

Primary Supervisor:

Arkhat Abzhanov

Life Sciences Department, NHM

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Secondary Supervisor:

David Hone

School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, QMUL

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Project Description:

The pterosaurs are an extinct group of flying reptiles that lived alongside the dinosaurs and included species ranging in size from 25 cm to 10 m wingspans. The constraints of powered flight limited their morphological disparity except in their heads where they show a huge range of skull shapes, feeding adaptations and display features. This diversity has been little studied or quantified despite the good available data from >50 species and some showing complete ontogenetic series. This project will trace the morphological diversity and disparity of pterosaur skulls both from evolutionary and developmental perspectives using geometric morphometrics. We aim to plot this diversity in comprehensive (phylo)morphospace and explore the potential role of developmental changes in pterosaur cranial evolution. In particular, we are interested to explore the significance of heterochrony, i.e. changes in timing of developmental events, and modularity, i.e. changes in integration between different parts of the skull. The results from this study will be compared with those from similar studies on other contemporary reptilian groups which were evolving diverse cranial shapes during the Triassic period, for example, early dinosaurs, aetosaurs, phytosaurs, rauisuchians, crocodylomorphs, etc. and in the context of tetrapod cranial evolution more generally.

Policy Impact of Research:

Understanding craniofacial development and evolution benefits society both in terms of knowledge (mechanistic understanding of evolution) and has a potential to better understand craniofacial abnormalities (biomedical sciences).

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