POSTCRANIAL ELEMENT SHAPE AND FUNCTION: ASSESSING LOCOMOTOR MODE IN EXTANT AND EXTINCT MUSTELID CARNIVORANS

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Assessment of locomotor modes in fossil taxa must often be made on the basis of heavily fragmented postcranial material. Previous authors have used quantitative methods to determine locomotor function from whole postcranial elements. The goals of this project were to assess the ability of element shape to discern between locomotor modes through landmark analysis, and to apply the results to assessment of fossils. Results suggest that element shape is a good predictor of function, but that different elements have different predictive capacities for each locomotor mode. Additionally, a relationship between size and shape exists that appears to drive morphological differentiation in the group. Finally, data from the extant sample were applied to fossil material of the extinct Plio-Pleistocene taxon Trigonictis. The results suggest that the locomotor mode of Trigonictis was generalized and probably an intermediate between the half-bound locomotion found in weasels and ferrets and the scansorial locomotion of martens and fishers. © 2007 The Linnean Society of London, Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2007, 150, 895–914.