Locomotor mode is an important component of an animal's ecology, relating to both habitat and substrate choice (e.g., arboreal versus terrestrial) and in the case of carnivores, to mode of predation (e.g., ambush versus pursuit). Here, we examine how the morphology of the calcaneum, the ‘heel bone’ in the tarsus, correlates with locomotion in extant carnivores. Other studies have confirmed the correlation of calcaneal morphology with locomotion behaviour and habitat. The robust nature of the calcaneum means that it is frequently preserved in the fossil record. Here, we employ linear measurements and 2D‐geometric morphometrics on a sample of calcanea from eighty‐seven extant carnivorans and demonstrate a signal of correlation between calcaneal morphology and locomotor mode that overrides phylogeny. We used this correlation to determine the locomotor mode, and hence aspects of the palaeobiology of, 47 extinct carnivorous mammal taxa, including both Carnivora and Creodonta. We found ursids (bears), clustered together, separate from the other carnivorans. Our results support greater locomotor diversity for nimravids (the extinct ‘false sabertooths’, usually considered to be more arboreal), than previously expected. However, there are limitations to interpretation of extinct taxa because their robust morphology is not fully captured in the range of modern carnivoran morphology.
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National Museums Scotland
Brown University Bushnell Foundation
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Journal of Morphology
John Wiley & Sons
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This article was published online on 11 June 2017. An error was subsequently identified. This notice is included in the online and print versions to indicate that both have been corrected 16 June 2017.