Origin and Evolution of the Turtle Body Plan

Tyler R. Lyson, Gabriel S. Bever

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


The origin of turtles and their uniquely shelled body plan is one of the longest standing problems in vertebrate biology. The unfulfilled need for a hypothesis that both explains the derived nature of turtle anatomy and resolves their unclear phylogenetic position among reptiles largely reflects the absence of a transitional fossil record. Recent discoveries have dramatically improved this situation, providing an integrated, time-calibrated model of the morphological, developmental, and ecological transformations responsible for the modern turtle body plan. This evolutionary trajectory was initiated in the Permian (gt260 million years ago) when a turtle ancestor with a diapsid skull evolved a novel mechanism for lung ventilation. This key innovation permitted the torso to become apomorphically stiff, most likely as an adaption for digging and a fossorial ecology. The construction of the modern turtle body plan then proceeded over the next 100 million years following a largely stepwise model of osteological innovation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)143-166
Number of pages24
JournalAnnual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics
StatePublished - Nov 2 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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