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Skeletal variation in extant species enables systematic identification of New Zealand’s large, subfossil diplodactylids

Authors
  • Scarsbrook, Lachie1
  • Sherratt, Emma2
  • Hitchmough, Rodney A.3
  • Rawlence, Nicolas J.1
  • 1 University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand , Dunedin (New Zealand)
  • 2 The University of Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia , Adelaide (Australia)
  • 3 Department of Conservation, Wellington, New Zealand , Wellington (New Zealand)
Type
Published Article
Journal
BMC Ecology and Evolution
Publisher
BioMed Central
Publication Date
Apr 27, 2021
Volume
21
Issue
1
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1186/s12862-021-01808-7
Source
Springer Nature
Keywords
License
Green

Abstract

New Zealand’s diplodactylid geckos exhibit high species-level diversity, largely independent of discernible osteological changes. Consequently, systematic affinities of isolated skeletal elements (fossils) are primarily determined by comparisons of size, particularly in the identification of Hoplodactylus duvaucelii, New Zealand’s largest extant gecko species. Here, three-dimensional geometric morphometrics of maxillae (a common fossilized element) was used to determine whether consistent shape and size differences exist between genera, and if cryptic extinctions have occurred in subfossil ‘Hoplodactylus cf. duvaucelii’. Sampling included 13 diplodactylid species from five genera, and 11 Holocene subfossil ‘H. cf. duvaucelii’ individuals. We found phylogenetic history was the most important predictor of maxilla morphology among extant diplodactylid genera. Size comparisons could only differentiate Hoplodactylus from other genera, with the remaining genera exhibiting variable degrees of overlap. Six subfossils were positively identified as H. duvaucelii, confirming their proposed Holocene distribution throughout New Zealand. Conversely, five subfossils showed no clear affinities with any modern diplodactylid genera, implying either increased morphological diversity in mainland ‘H. cf. duvaucelii’ or the presence of at least one extinct, large, broad-toed diplodactylid species.

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