Temnospondyls are large extinct fossil tetrapods; superficially resembling crocodiles in their general size, appearance and lifestyle. Temnospondyls are a group of early tetrapods, the oldest fossils are more than 340 million years old, and they existed for more than 200 million years. This doctoral thesis examined the postcranial skeleton of temnospondyls and its evolutionary history and diversification. Standard taxonomic techniques were used to distinguish between the types of variation observed in the postcranial skeleton and for phylogenetic analysis. The thesis consists of a series of published articles, three describing the postcranial skeletons of various temnospondyls, and three summary articles, all with extensive illustrations.To provide data, the postcranial skeletons of three temnospondyl taxa were described. The articulated postcranial skeleton of a basal stereospondyl (rhinesuchid) is immature, and paedomorphism of the postcranial skeleton in stereospondyls is discussed. The robust appendicular skeleton of Eryops megacephalus is plesiomorphic, well-ossified, and terrestrially adapted. The paedomorphic postcranial skeleton of Trimerorhachis insignis is plesiomorphic, and secondarily aquatic, the description includes growth stages. This study found that extensive morphogenetic variation is present in the postcranial skeleton of temnospondyls. Many phylogenetically significant characteristics develop with morphogenesis, they may be absent in early growth stages, and may never develop even in the largest growth stages of taxa with paedomorphic postcranial skeletons. Consequently, assessment of the presence or absence of a phylogenetically significant characteristic in any taxon may be dependant on the morphogenetic stage of the specimen examined. This finding has major implications for the phylogenetic analysis of temnospondyls and other early tetrapods.An overview of phylogenetic variation in the postcranial skeleton is presented, including a large phylogenetic analysis of the Temnospondyli. The most primitive temnospondyls possess fully ossified postcranial skeletons, well adapted for terrestrial locomotion, but some of the derived clades of temnospondyls have paedomorphic postcranial skeletons and are exclusively aquatic. For the first time, the postcranial skeleton of temnospondyls is comprehensively compared with that of other early tetrapods in the largest phylogenetic analysis to date, resulting in the unexpected discovery that temnospondyls are most closely related to the ancestors of amniotes. The Temnospondyli plus Neospondyli (Seymouriamorpha plus Cotylosauria plus Lepospondyli) forms a large new clade, the Terrapoda, defined by the presence of many derived synapomorphies. Some of the cranial synapomorphies of the Terrapoda are most likely related to improvements in hearing. The postcranial synapomorphies indicate that the Terrapoda are the first vertebrates to have evolved limbs that are well adapted for terrestrial locomotion. The Terrapoda are the first truly terrestrial vertebrates, their postcranial adaptations facilitated their colonisation of the land and consequent phylogenetic radiation during the early Carboniferous. Both analyses incorporate characters from previous analyses and many new postcranial characters. The results of the phylogenetic analyses are statistically more parsimonious than previous analyses and have much lower levels of homoplasy. Comparative analyses indicate that the distinctive results are most likely due to the increased use of characters pertaining to temnospondyls, increased use of postcranial characters, and differentiation between sources of morphological variation to minimise morphogenetic and phenotypic variation and elucidate true phylogenetic signal.
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