Data from: Quantifying shape and ecology in avian pedal claws: the relationship between the bony core and keratinous sheath

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Dryad, Dataset


Terrestrial tetrapods use their claws to interact with their environments in a plethora of ways. Birds in particular have developed a diversity of claw shapes since they are often not bound to terrestrial locomotion and have heterogeneous body masses ranging several orders of magnitude. Numerous previous studies have hypothesized a connection between pedal claw shape and ecological mode in birds, yet have generated conflicting results, spanning from clear ecological groupings based on claw shape to a complete overlap of ecological modes. The majority of these studies have relied on traditional morphometric arc measurements of keratinous sheaths and have variably accounted for likely confounding factors such as body mass and phylogenetic relatedness. To better address the hypothesized relationship between ecology and claw shape in birds, we collected 580 radiographs allowing visualization of the bony core and keratinous sheath shape in 21 avian orders. Geometric morphometrics was used to quantify bony core and keratinous sheath shape and was compared to results using traditional arc measurements. Neither approach significantly separates bird claws into coarse ecological categories after integrating body size and phylogenetic relatedness; however, some separation between ecological groups is evident and we find a gradual shift from the claw shape of ground-dwelling birds to those of predatory birds. Further, the bony claw core and keratinous sheath are significantly correlated, and the degree of functional integration does not differ across ecological groups. Therefore, it is likely possible to compare fossil bony cores with extant keratinous sheaths after applying corrections. Finally, traditional metrics and geometric morphometric shape are significantly, yet loosely correlated. Based on these results, future workers are encouraged to use geometric morphometric approaches to study claw geometry and account for confounding factors such as body size, phylogeny, and individual variation prior to predicting ecology in fossil taxa.




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