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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Comparative Skull Morphology of Southern African Burrowing Skinks (Squamata; Scincidae)
by Stepanova, Natasha, M.S., Villanova University, 2020, 242; 28256418
Abstract (Summary)

Burrowing squamates have highly modified skulls for head-first burrowing, but studies of variation within burrowers are limited. I investigated skull morphology of African skinks in Acontias, Typhlosaurus, Scelotes, Sepsina, Feylinia, Typhlacontias, and Mochlus (39 sp.) representing multiple independent derivations of burrowing. I used computed tomography scans and geometric morphometrics to test the relationship between skull shape and phylogeny, size, substrate, and degree of limb reduction. There was a strong relationship between phylogenetic history and morphology, with size and substrate playing a smaller role in explaining variation. I examined variation in each skull element of four species across phylogenetic and functional levels. Broad convergence in burrowing traits was achieved through different osteological changes. I used finite element analysis to investigate stress distribution in the skull of Acontias kgalagadi when burrowing. By using multiple techniques to look at morphology, I was better able to understand how multiple factors shaped a specialized morphology.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Bauer, Aaron M.
Commitee: Jackman, Todd, Stark, Alyssa Y.
School: Villanova University
Department: Biology
School Location: United States -- Pennsylvania
Source: MAI 82/7(E), Masters Abstracts International
Subjects: Evolution and Development, Morphology
Keywords: Anatomy, Convergent evolution, Fossorial, Skink, Skull, Squamate
Publication Number: 28256418
ISBN: 9798557094801
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