Journal of Mammalian Evolution

, Volume 16, Issue 1, pp 1–23 | Cite as

The Calcaneum—On the Heels of Marsupial Locomotion

  • Mina Bassarova
  • Christine M. Janis
  • Michael Archer
Original Paper


The potential for making functional interpretations from a single postcranial element for marsupials was investigated through morphometric analysis of the calcanea of 61 extant species from Australia and New Guinea. Extant species were grouped into locomotor categories and a canonical variates analysis was carried out on measurements of their calcanea. A relationship between measurements of the calcanea and the locomotor behavior of species was found, allowing for prediction of locomotor behavior from calcaneum morphometrics. This was applied to fossil marsupial taxa, from early–late Miocene/?Pliocene deposits at Riversleigh, in an attempt to determine their locomotor behavior. Hopping (saltatorial) taxa are distinguished from quadruped terrestrial taxa and taxa capable of climbing (arboreal and scansorial) by their relatively longer tuber calcis and wider calcaneal head, by their dorso-ventrally thicker calcaneal head, and by their calcaneocuboid facet being less steeply angled antero-posteriorly. Taxa capable of climbing are distinguished from quadruped terrestrial taxa by their shorter tuber calcis relative to the calcaneal head and by their smaller calcaneo-astragalar facet. The locomotor categories distinguished in this study (arboreal/scansorial, quadruped terrestrial, and saltatorial) highlight differences between species in their use of available substrates and thus are informative with regards to the structural components of their habitat. The results of this analysis can be used, in combination with other data, to make inferences about the habitats of paleocommunities at Riversleigh through the Miocene. The calcaneum is a dense and very robust element and, therefore, has a good chance of being preserved. This method provides a quick and easy way of inferring locomotion and has a wide potential for application to many fossil deposits because it requires only a single element.


Morphometric–functional analysis Fossils Riversleigh Canonical variates analysis 



Vital support for the Riversleigh Fossil Project has been provided by the Australian Research Council, Department of Environment and Heritage, Environment Australia, the University of New South Wales, the Queensland Museum, the Australian Museum, Mount Isa City Council, Outback at Isa, Xstrata, CREATE, and many private supporters and volunteers as well as staff and postgraduate students of the University of New South Wales. We thank D. Arena R. Beck, K. Black, P. Brewer, A. Gillespie, H. Godthelp, S. Hand, B. Kear, J. Louys, K. Roberts, K. Travouillon, and V. Weisbecker for discussion, technical advice and assistance. T. Ennis and S. Ingleby kindly allowed access to comparative specimens at the Australian Museum.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mina Bassarova
    • 1
  • Christine M. Janis
    • 2
  • Michael Archer
    • 1
  1. 1.Vertebrate Palaeontology Laboratory, School of Biological, Earth and Environmental ScienceUniversity of New South WalesSydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyBrown UniversityProvidenceUSA

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