Correlates between calcaneal morphology and locomotion in extant and extinct carnivorous mammals

Elsa Panciroli, Christine Janis, Max Stockdale, Alberto Martín-Serra

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)
330 Downloads (Pure)


Locomotor mode is an important component of an animal’s ecology, relating to both habitat and substrate choice (e.g., arboreal versus terrestrial) and in the case of carnivores, to mode of predation (e.g., ambush versus pursuit). Here, we examine how the morphology of the calcaneum, the‘heel bone’ in the tarsus, correlates with locomotion in extant carnivores. Other studies have confirmed
the correlation of calcaneal morphology with locomotion behaviour and habitat. The robustnature of the calcaneum means that it is frequently preserved in the fossil record. Here, we employ linear measurements and 2D-geometric morphometrics on a sample of calcanea from eighty-seven extant carnivorans and demonstrate a signal of correlation between calcaneal morphology and locomotor mode that overrides phylogeny. We used this correlation to determine the locomotor mode, and hence aspects of the palaeobiology of, 47 extinct carnivorous mammal taxa,
including both Carnivora and Creodonta. We found ursids (bears), clustered together, separate
from the other carnivorans. Our results support greater locomotor diversity for nimravids (the
extinct ‘false sabertooths’, usually considered to be more arboreal), than previously expected.
However, there are limitations to interpretation of extinct taxa because their robust morphology is
not fully captured in the range of modern carnivoran morphology.
calcaneum, Carnivora, ecomorphology, locomotion, morphometrics
Placental mammalian carnivores today mostly comprise species in the
globally distributed order Carnivora. These mammals are characterised
by the possession of a pair of carnassial teeth (upper fourth premolar
and lower first molar; Goswami, 2010; Nowak, 2005). Carnivorans
exhibit a wide array of diets, including carnivores, omnivores, and some
herbivores, and locomotor types such as tree-dwellers, runners,
swimmers, diggers, and ambulators (Goswami, 2010). Their evolutionary
history stretches back to the generalised paraphyletic assemblage
of ‘
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1333-1353
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Morphology
Early online date11 Jun 2017
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2017


  • calcaneum
  • Carnivora
  • ecomorphology
  • locomotion
  • morphometrics


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