Not Enough Skeletons in the Closet: Collections-Based Anatomical Research in an Age of Conservation Conscience

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The emergence of new technologies and improved computing power helped to introduce a renewed vitality in morphological research in recent decades. This is especially apparent in the new advances made in understanding the evolutionary morphology of the skeletal system in extinct and extant squamate reptiles. The new data generated as a result of the recent increase in attention are relevant not only for systematic analyses but also are valuable in their own right for contributing to holistic perspectives on organismal evolution, mosaic evolution in the rates of change in different anatomical systems, and broader patterns of macroevolution. A global community of morphological researchers now can share data through online digital collections, but opportunities for continued advance are hindered because we lack even basic data on patterns of variation of the skeletal system for virtually all squamate lineages. Most work on skeletal morphology of squamates is based on a sample size of n=1; this is an especially noticeable phenomenon for studies relying on X-ray computed tomography technology. We need new collections of skeletal specimens, both material and digital, and new approaches to the study of skeletal morphology. Promising areas for continued research include the recent focus on skeletal elements not traditionally included in morphological studies (especially systematic analyses based upon morphological data) and efforts to elucidate patterns of variation and phylogenetically informative features of disarticulated skeletal elements. Anat Rec, 297:344-348, 2014.