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The Evolution of Modularity in the Mammalian Skull I: Morphological Integration Patterns and Magnitudes

  • PORTO, Arthur
  • OLIVEIRA, Felipe B. de
  • SHIRAI, Leila T.
  • CONTO, Valderes De
  • MARROIG, Gabriel
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2009
Biblioteca Digital da Produção Intelectual da Universidade de São Paulo (BDPI/USP)
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Morphological integration refers to the modular structuring of inter-trait relationships in an organism, which could bias the direction and rate of morphological change, either constraining or facilitating evolution along certain dimensions of the morphospace. Therefore, the description of patterns and magnitudes of morphological integration and the analysis of their evolutionary consequences are central to understand the evolution of complex traits. Here we analyze morphological integration in the skull of several mammalian orders, addressing the following questions: are there common patterns of inter-trait relationships? Are these patterns compatible with hypotheses based on shared development and function? Do morphological integration patterns and magnitudes vary in the same way across groups? We digitized more than 3,500 specimens spanning 15 mammalian orders, estimated the correspondent pooled within-group correlation and variance/covariance matrices for 35 skull traits and compared those matrices among the orders. We also compared observed patterns of integration to theoretical expectations based on common development and function. Our results point to a largely shared pattern of inter-trait correlations, implying that mammalian skull diversity has been produced upon a common covariance structure that remained similar for at least 65 million years. Comparisons with a rodent genetic variance/covariance matrix suggest that this broad similarity extends also to the genetic factors underlying phenotypic variation. In contrast to the relative constancy of inter-trait correlation/covariance patterns, magnitudes varied markedly across groups. Several morphological modules hypothesized from shared development and function were detected in the mammalian taxa studied. Our data provide evidence that mammalian skull evolution can be viewed as a history of inter-module parcellation, with the modules themselves being more clearly marked in those lineages with lower overall magnitude of integration. The implication of these findings is that the main evolutionary trend in the mammalian skull was one of decreasing the constraints to evolution by promoting a more modular architecture.

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