Palaeophysiology of pH regulation in tetrapods

Christine M. Janis, James G. Napoli, Daniel E. Warren

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

10 Citations (Scopus)


The involvement of mineralized tissues in acid-base homeostasis was likely important in the evolution of terrestrial vertebrates. Extant reptiles encounter hypercapnia when submerged in water, but early tetrapods may have experienced hypercapnia on land due to their inefficient mode of lung ventilation (likely buccal pumping, as in extant amphibians). Extant amphibians rely on cutaneous carbon dioxide elimination on land, but early tetrapods were considerably larger forms, with an unfavourable surface area to volume ratio for such activity, and evidence of a thick integument. Consequently, they would have been at risk of acidosis on land, while many of them retained internal gills and would not have had a problem eliminating carbon dioxide in water. In extant tetrapods, dermal bone can function to buffer the blood during acidosis by releasing calcium and magnesium carbonates. This review explores the possible mechanisms of acid-base regulation in tetrapod evolution, focusing on heavily armoured, basal tetrapods of the Permo-Carboniferous, especially the physiological challenges associated with the transition to air-breathing, body size and the adoption of active lifestyles. We also consider the possible functions of dermal armour in later tetrapods, such as Triassic archosaurs, inferring palaeophysiology from both fossil record evidence and phylogenetic patterns, and propose a new hypothesis relating the archosaurian origins of the four-chambered heart and high systemic blood pressures to the perfusion of the osteoderms. This article is part of the theme issue 'Vertebrate palaeophysiology'.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPhilosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences
Issue number1793
Early online date13 Jan 2020
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jan 2020


  • acidosis
  • archosaurs
  • dermal bone
  • early tetrapods
  • palaeobiology
  • palaeophysiology


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