Supplementary Material from Correlated evolution of neck length and leg length in birds

Despite a diversity of about 10 000 extant species, the sophisticated avian ‘body plan’ has not much changed once it was achieved around 160 Ma after the origin of powered flight. All birds are bipedal having wings, a rigid trunk, a short and ossified tail, a three-segmented leg and digitigrade feet. The avian neck, however, has always been regarded as a classic example of high variability ranging from short necks in songbirds to extremely long, serpentine necks in herons. Yet, the wide array of small to very large species makes it difficult to evaluate the actual neck length. Here, we investigate the evolution of the vertebral formulae in the neck of birds and the scaling relationships between skeletal dimensions and body size. Cervical count in birds is strongly related to phylogeny, with only some specialists having an exceptional number of vertebrae in the neck. In contrast with mammals, the length of the cervical vertebral column increases as body size increases and, thus, body size does not constrain neck length in birds. Indeed, neck length scales isometrically with total leg length suggesting a correlated evolution between both modules. The strong integration between the cervical and pelvic module in birds is in contrast with the decoupling of the fore- and hindlimb module and may be the result of the loss of a functionally versatile forelimb due to the evolution of powered flight.