Ecomorphology of plesiosaur flipper geometry

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The Plesiosauria is an extinct group of marine reptiles once common in mesozoic seas. Previous work on plesiosaur hunting styles has suggested that short-necked, large-headed animals were pursuit predators, whereas long-necked, small-headed animals were ambush predators. This study presents new data on the aspect ratios (ARs) of plesiosaur flippers, and interprets these data via comparison with AR in birds, bats and aircraft. Performance trade-offs implicit in AR variation are well-understood in the context of aircraft design, and these trade-offs have direct ecomorphological analogues in birds and bats. Knowledge of these trade-offs allows interpretation of variation in plesiosaur AR. By analogy, short-necked taxa were specialized for manoeuvrability and pursuit, whereas long-necked taxa were generally specialized for efficiency and cruising. These interpretations agree with previous assessments of maximum swimming speed.


This is the final version of the following article: O'Keefe, F. R. (2001), Ecomorphology of plesiosaur flipper geometry. Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 14: 987–991. doi: 10.1046/j.1420-9101.2001.00347.x, which has been published at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1046/j.1420-9101.2001.00347.x/full and reprinted with permission.

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