Femoral specializations to locomotor habits in early archosauriforms
The evolutionary history of archosaurs and their closest relatives is characterized by a wide diversity of locomotor modes, which has even been suggested as a pivotal aspect underlying the evolutionary success of dinosaurs vs. pseudosuchians across the Triassic-Jurassic transition. This locomotor diversity (e.g., more sprawling/erect; crouched/upright; quadrupedal/bipedal) led to several morphofunctional specializations of archosauriform limb bones that have been studied qualitatively as well as quantitatively through various linear morphometric studies. However, differences in locomotor habits have never been studied across the Triassic-Jurassic transition using 3D geometric morphometrics, which can relate how morphological features vary according to biological factors such as locomotor habit and body mass. Herein, we investigate morphological variation across a dataset of 72 femora from 36 different species of archosauriforms. First, we identify femoral head rotation, distal slope of the fourth trochanter, femoral curvature, and the angle between the lateral condyle and crista tibiofibularis as the main features varying between bipedal and quadrupedal taxa, all of these traits having a stronger locomotor signal than the lesser trochanter's proximal extent. We show a significant association between locomotor mode and phylogeny, but with the locomotor signal being stronger than the phylogenetic signal. This enables us to predict locomotor modes of some of the more ambiguous early archosauriforms without relying on the relationships between hindlimb and forelimb linear bone dimensions as in prior studies. Second, we highlight that the most important morphological variation is linked to the increase of body size, which impacts the width of the epiphyses and the roundness and proximodistal position of the fourth trochanter. Furthermore, we show that bipedal and quadrupedal archosauriforms have different allometric trajectories along the morphological variation in relation to body size. Finally, we demonstrate a covariation between locomotor mode and body size, with variations in femoral bowing (anteroposterior curvature) being more distinct among robust femora than gracile ones. We also identify a decoupling in fourth trochanter variation between locomotor mode (symmetrical to semi-pendant) and body size (sharp to rounded). Our results indicate a similar level of morphological disparity linked to a clear convergence in femoral robusticity between the two clades of archosauriforms (Pseudosuchia and Avemetatarsalia), emphasizing the importance of accounting for body size when studying their evolutionary history, as well as when studying the functional morphology of appendicular features. Determining how early archosauriform skeletal features were impacted by locomotor habits and body size also enables us to discuss the potential homoplasy of some phylogenetic characters used previously in cladistic analyses as well as when bipedalism evolved in the avemetatarsalian lineage. This study illuminates how the evolution of femoral morphology in early archosauriforms was functionally constrained by locomotor habit and body size, which should aid ongoing discussions about the early evolution of dinosaurs and the nature of their evolutionary "success" over pseudosuchians.