Comparative Myology and Evolution of Marsupials and Other Vertebrates, With Notes on Complexity, Bauplan, and "Scala Naturae"

Jun 1, 2016

Opossums are frequent subjects of developmental studies because marsupials share developmental features not seen in placentals and because Didelphimorpha is the sister-group of other extant Marsupialia. But is the adult marsupial muscular system markedly different from that of placentals or is it, like the skeletal system, very similar? We provide, for the first time, a brief description of all head and limb muscles of Didelphis virginiana based on our dissections and using a unifying nomenclature by integrating the data gathered in our long-term project on the development, homologies and evolution of the muscles of all major vertebrate taxa. Our data indicate that there were many more muscle synapomorphic changes from the last common ancestor (LCA) of amniotes to the mammalian LCA (63) and from this LCA to the LCA of extant therians (48) than from this latter LCA to the LCA of extant placentals (10 or 11). Importantly, Didelphis is anatomically more plesiomorphic (only 14 changes from LCA of extant therians) than are rats (37 changes) and humans (63 changes), but its musculature is more complex (193 muscles) than that of humans (only 180 muscles). Of the 194 muscles of Didelphis, 172 (89%) are present in rats, meaning that their adult muscle anatomy is indeed very similar. This similarity supports the existence of a common, easy recognizable therian Bauplan, but one that is caused by developmental constraints and by evolutionary change driven by the needs of the embryos/neonates, rather than by a ‘goal' towards a specific adult plan/‘archetype,' as the name Bauplan suggests.