The forelimbs evolved from the ancestor that moved to land from water.
Forelimb structure is homologous from amphibians to mammals and is consistent with convergent evolution.
The evolutionary changes are observed in the number of digits, characteristics of the digits, shape, and alignment of the bones of the forelimb including the radius, ulna, and humerus.
The evolutionary changes were driven by changes in body size, the posture of the foot, gait, habitat, locomotion, dietary and predatory patterns, and climate changes.
The tetrapods are initially hypothesized to have developed with five digits. Except for reptiles and primates, the rest of them seem to have reduced the number of digits.
It was then hypothesized later that the currently extinct tetrapods that were first locomoted on land might have had more than five digits.
Polydactyly is considered a major evolutionary feature in the evolution of forelimbs.
The lobe-finned fishes were the first animals to move on land. Their limbs underwent evolutionary changes where paddle-like feet evolved from them as seen in amphibians with a notable change in the developmental axis of the limb.
Modifications of the forelimb:
The basic structure of forelimbs is the same in all mammals- humerus, radius and ulna, carpals, metacarpals, and phalanges.
Wings of bats are one of the examples of modification of the forelimbs in mammals.
The bat wings are covered by a thin membrane of skin that is supported by five digits.
Flippers of marine mammals such as cetaceans, sirenians, and pinnipeds are the other example of modification of the forelimb in mammals.
The forelimb of marine mammals such as dolphins, seals, blue whale, walrus, narwhales underwent adaptive changes to form the flippers to aid in swimming.
These flippers also support their streamlined bodies for locomotion.
The digits have undergone specialization based on the adaptational requirement for the animal such as hooves in cattle, horses, and opposable thumbs in humans.
The horses are monodactyl that is they have only one digit.
Cows and pigs show two digits. The digits in hooved mammals can be even-toed or odd-toed such as the ungulates.
Human evolution took its course from being arboreal to terrestrial. One important feature that helped humans to live on land is the opposable thumb that is one of the reasons civilizations came into being.
Opposable thumb helped a man with discovering fire, agriculture, cooking with fire, carving stones for weapons and so on which increases their chance of survival.
Primates show the opposable thumb feature particularly the old world monkeys, great apes, and gibbons.
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