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Vestibular evidence for the evolution of aquatic behaviour in early cetaceans.
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Vestibular evidence for the evolution of aquatic behaviour in early cetaceans.

Author: F Spoor Affiliation: Department of Anatomy & Developmental Biology, University College London, Rockefeller Building, University Street, London WC1E 6JJ, UK. f.spoor@ucl.ac.uk; S Bajpai; ST Hussain; K Kumar; JG Thewissen
Edition/Format: Article Article : English
Publication:Nature, 2002 May 09; 417(6885): 163-6
  Peer-reviewed
Other Databases: WorldCatMAS CompleteAcademic Search CompleteAcademic OneFileWorldCatMasterFILE Complete
Summary:
Early cetaceans evolved from terrestrial quadrupeds to obligate swimmers, a change that is traditionally studied by functional analysis of the postcranial skeleton. Here we assess the evolution of cetacean locomotor behaviour from an independent perspective by looking at the semicircular canal system, one of the main sense organs involved in neural control of locomotion. Extant cetaceans are found to be unique in  Read more...
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Details

Document Type: Article
All Authors / Contributors: F Spoor Affiliation: Department of Anatomy & Developmental Biology, University College London, Rockefeller Building, University Street, London WC1E 6JJ, UK. f.spoor@ucl.ac.uk; S Bajpai; ST Hussain; K Kumar; JG Thewissen
ISSN:0028-0836
Language Note: English
Unique Identifier: 111075434
Awards:

Abstract:

Early cetaceans evolved from terrestrial quadrupeds to obligate swimmers, a change that is traditionally studied by functional analysis of the postcranial skeleton. Here we assess the evolution of cetacean locomotor behaviour from an independent perspective by looking at the semicircular canal system, one of the main sense organs involved in neural control of locomotion. Extant cetaceans are found to be unique in that their canal arc size, corrected for body mass, is approximately three times smaller than in other mammals. This reduces the sensitivity of the canal system, most plausibly to match the fast body rotations that characterize cetacean behaviour. Eocene fossils show that the new sensory regime, incompatible with terrestrial competence, developed quickly and early in cetacean evolution, as soon as the taxa are associated with marine environments. Dedicated agile swimming of cetaceans thus appeared to have originated as a rapid and fundamental shift in locomotion rather than as the gradual transition suggested by postcranial evidence. We hypothesize that the unparalleled modification of the semicircular canal system represented a key 'point of no return' event in early cetacean evolution, leading to full independence from life on land.
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