The origin of tetrapods and the transition from swimming to walking was a pivotal step in the evolution and diversification of terrestrial vertebrates. During this time, modifications of the limbs—particularly the specialization of joints and the structures that guide their motions—fundamentally changed the ways in which early tetrapods could move1, 2, 3, 4. Nonetheless, little is known about the functional consequences of limb anatomy in early tetrapods and how that anatomy influenced locomotion capabilities at this very critical stage in vertebrate evolution. Here we present a three-dimensional reconstruction of the iconic Devonian tetrapod Ichthyostega and a quantitative and comparative analysis of limb mobility in this early tetrapod. We show that Ichthyostega could not have employed typical tetrapod locomotory behaviours, such as lateral sequence walking. In particular, it lacked the necessary rotary motions in its limbs to push the body off the ground and move the limbs in an alternating sequence. Given that long-axis rotation was present in the fins of tetrapodomorph fishes5, 6, 7, it seems that either early tetrapods evolved through an initial stage of restricted shoulder8, 9 and hip joint mobility or that Ichthyostega was unique in this respect. We conclude that early tetrapods with the skeletal morphology and limb mobility of Ichthyostega were unlikely to have made some of the recently described Middle Devonian trackways10.
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- Supplementary Information (1.8M)
This proof contains Supplementary Text, which includes details of how the 3D model of Ichthyostega was constructed, Supplementary References, Supplementary Figures 1-6 and Supplementary Tables 1-6.
- Supplementary Movie 1 (17.2M)
This movie shows the 3D whole body reconstruction of Ichthyostega spinning 360 degrees in yaw and roll.
- Supplementary Movie 2 (8.3M)
This movie shows maximum range of motion in the shoulder joint of Ichthyostega during flexion/extension, adduction/abduction and pronation/supination.
- Supplementary Movie 3 (7.6M)
This movie shows maximum range of motion in the hip joint of Ichthyostega during flexion/extension, adduction/abduction and pronation/supination.