On the serial homology of the pectoral and pelvic girdles of tetrapods

Karen E. Sears, Terence D. Capellini, Rui Diogo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


While fore- and hindlimbs are commonly assumed to be serially homologous, the serial homology of the pectoral and pelvic girdles is more ambiguous. We investigate the degree to which a common history, developmental program, and gene network are shared between the girdles relative to the rest of the appendicular skeleton. Paleontological data indicate that pectoral appendages arose millions of years before pelvic appendages. Recent embryological and genetic data suggest that the anatomical similarity between the fore- and hindlimbs arose through the sequential, derived deployment of similar developmental programs and gene networks, and is therefore not due to ancestral serial homology. Much less developmental work has however been published about the girdles. Here, we provide the first detailed review of the developmental programs and gene networks of the pectoral and pelvic girdles. Our review shows that, with respect to these programs and networks, there are fewer similarities between pelvic and pectoral girdles than there are between the limbs. The available data therefore support recent hypotheses that the anatomical similarities between the fore- and hindlimbs arose during the fin-to-limb transition through the derived co-option of similar developmental mechanisms, while the phylogenetically older pectoral and pelvic girdles have remained more distinct since their evolutionary origin.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2543-2555
Number of pages13
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2015


  • Development
  • Embryology
  • Forelimb
  • Gene network
  • Hindlimb
  • Paleontology
  • Pelvis
  • Scapula

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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