Evolution of the bovid cranium: morphological diversification under allometric constraint

Faysal Bibi, Joshua Tyler

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7 Citations (SciVal)


The role of environmental selection in generating novel morphology is often taken for granted, and morphology is generally assumed to be adaptive. Bovids (antelopes and relatives) are widely differentiated in their dietary and climatic preferences, and presumably their cranial morphologies are the result of adaptation to different environmental pressures. In order to test these ideas, we performed 3D geometric morphometric analyses on 141 crania representing 96 bovid species in order to assess the influence of both extrinsic (e.g. diet, habitat) and intrinsic (size, modularity) factors on cranial shape. Surprisingly, we find that bovid crania are highly clumped in morphospace, with a large number of ecologically disparate species occupying a very similar range of morphology clustered around the mean shape. Differences in shape among dietary, habitat, and net primary productivity categories are largely non-significant, but we found a strong interaction between size and diet in explaining shape. We furthermore found no evidence for modularity having played a role in the generation of cranial differences across the bovid tree. Rather, the distribution of bovid cranial morphospace appears to be mainly the result of constraints imposed by a deeply conserved size-shape allometry, and dietary diversification the result of adaptation of existing allometric pathways.
Original languageEnglish
Article number69
JournalCommunications Biology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jan 2022


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