Running for life: How speed restricts evolutionary change of the vertebral column

Naturalis Biodiversity Center

One of the riddles of mammal evolution explained: the strong conservation of the number of trunk vertebrae. They measured variation in vertebrae of 774 individual mammal skeletons of both fast and slow running species. The researchers found that a combination of developmental and biomechanical problems prevents evolutionary change in the number of trunk vertebrae in fast running and agile mammals. The stiffness of the back of a mammal is key to whether evolutionary change is possible or not, said Frietson Galis, researcher at Naturalis Biodiversity Center and one of the authors of the study. Photograph 2 Title: Authors Frietson Galis (left) and Clara ten Broek investigating the vertebral column of a Thomson’s gazelle.

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