IMPLICATIONS OF THE MORPHOLOGY OF THE BONY LABYRINTH FOR THE PALEOECOLOGY AND SYSTEMATICS OF TURTLES
I used computed tomography to examine the morphology of the bony labyrinth in 18 species, including examples of most major clades of extant turtles. Trionychids, a group of highly-aquatic freshwater turtles, exhibit dorsoventrally depressed SSCs, with a long anterior SSC. Semi-aquatic mud turtles possess taller SSCs, with similar overall labyrinth morphology to that of snapping turtles. The fully-terrestrial tortoise Agrionemys, a member of Testudinoidea, possesses dorsoventrally tall and roughly symmetrical anterior and posterior SSCs that are more robust than those of aquatic taxa. Other testudinoid turtles exhibit a mosaic of characteristics that are known from fully terrestrial, semi-aquatic, and aquatic taxa from other turtle clades. For example, the semi-aquatic taxon Glyptemys possesses tall, robust SSCs, but also possesses a relatively long anterior SSC, similar to the aquatic trionychids. However, another semi-aquatic taxon, Emys orbicularis, possesses inner ear morphology more similar to that of Agrionemys.
Disparity within inner ear morphology of semi-aquatic taxa may be indicative of a phylogenetic rather than an ecological signal. Relationships within Testudinoidea are contentious; morphology-based studies are often incongruent with molecular analyses. With an increased taxonomic sample of both extinct and extant taxa, the inner ear may yield useful data on the interrelationships of problematic turtle taxa.