Evolution and function of anterior cervical vertebral fusion in tetrapods

VanBuren, Collin S. and Evans, David C. (2016) Evolution and function of anterior cervical vertebral fusion in tetrapods. Biological Reviews. n/a-n/a. ISSN 14647931 DOI 10.1111/brv.12245

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Official URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/brv.12245

Abstract

The evolution of vertebral fusion is a poorly understood phenomenon that results in the loss of mobility between sequential vertebrae. Non-pathological fusion of the anterior cervical vertebrae has evolved independently in numerous extant and extinct mammals and reptiles, suggesting that the formation of a ‘syncervical’ is an adaptation that arose to confer biomechanical advantage(s) in these lineages. We review syncervical anatomy and evolution in a broad phylogenetic context for the first time and provide a comprehensive summary of proposed adaptive hypotheses. The syncervical generally consists of two vertebrae (e.g. hornbills, porcupines, dolphins) but can include fusion of seven cervical vertebrae in some cetaceans. Based on the ecologies of taxa with this trait, cervical fusion most often occurs in fossorial and pelagic taxa. In fossorial taxa, the syncervical likely increases the out-lever force during head-lift digging. In cetaceans and ricochetal rodents, the syncervical may stabilize the head and neck during locomotion, although considerable variation exists in its composition without apparent variability in locomotion. Alternatively, the highly reduced cervical vertebral centra may require fusion to prevent mechanical failure of the vertebrae. In birds, the syncervical of hornbills may have evolved in response to their unique casque-butting behaviour, or due to increased head mass. The general correlation between ecological traits and the presence of a syncervical in extant taxa allows more accurate interpretation of extinct animals that also exhibit this unique trait. For example, syncervicals evolved independently in several groups of marine reptiles and may have functioned to stabilize the head at the craniocervical joint during pelagic locomotion, as in cetaceans. Overall, the origin and function of fused cervical vertebrae is poorly understood, emphasizing the need for future comparative biomechanical studies interpreted in an evolutionary context.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: © 2016 Cambridge Philosophical Society
Uncontrolled Keywords: 2015AREP; IA70; weekly list
Subjects: 04 - Palaeobiology
Divisions: 04 - Palaeobiology
Journal or Publication Title: Biological Reviews
Page Range: n/a-n/a
Identification Number: 10.1111/brv.12245
Depositing User: Sarah Humbert
Date Deposited: 17 Jan 2016 01:29
Last Modified: 16 Feb 2016 12:29
URI: http://eprints.esc.cam.ac.uk/id/eprint/3541

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