Lobe-fins transformed into limbs during the Devonian period, facilitating the water-to-land transition in tetrapods. We traced the evolution of well-articulated skeletons across the fins-to-limbs transition, using a network-based approach to quantify and compare topological features of fins and limbs. We show that the topological arrangement of bones in pectoral and pelvic appendages evolved in parallel during the fins-to-limbs transition, occupying overlapping regions of the morphospace, following a directional trend, and decreasing their disparity over time. We identify the presence of digits as the morphological novelty triggering topological changes that discriminated limbs from fins. The origin of digits caused an evolutionary shift toward appendages that were less densely and heterogeneously connected, but more assortative and modular. Disparity likewise decreased for both appendages, more markedly until a time concomitant with the earliest-known tetrapod tracks. Last, we rejected the presence of a pectoral-pelvic similarity bottleneck at the origin of tetrapods.
Esteve-Altava, B., Pierce, S. E., Molnar, J. L., Johnston, P., Diogo, R., & Hutchinson, J. R. (2019). Evolutionary parallelisms of pectoral and pelvic network-anatomy from fins to limbs. Science Advances, 5(5). https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.aau7459