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Keywords:

  • Australopithecus;
  • basicranium;
  • morphological integration;
  • brain;
  • cladistics

Abstract

Basicranial features were examined in catarrhine primates and early hominids in order to demonstrate how information about morphological integration can be incorporated into phylogenetic analysis. Hypotheses purporting to explain the functional and structural relationships of basicranial characters were tested using factor analysis. Characters found to be functionally or structurally related to each other were then further examined in order to determine whether there was evidence that they were phylogenetically independent. If phylogenetic independence could not be demonstrated, then the characters were presumed to be integrated and were grouped into a complex. That complex was then treated as if it were a single character for the purposes of cladistic analysis.

Factor analysis revealed that five basicranial features may be structurally related to relative brain size in hominoids. Depending on how one defines phylogenetic independence, as few as two, or as many as all of those characters might be morphologically integrated. A cladistic analysis of early hominids based on basicranial features revealed that the use of integrated complexes had a substantial effect on the phylogenetic position of Australopithecus africanus, a species whose relationships are poorly resolved. Moreover, the use of complexes also had an effect on reanalyses of certain published cladistic data sets, implying that those studies might have been biased by patterns of basicranial integration. These results demonstrate that patterns of morphological integration need to be considered carefully in all morphology-based cladistic analyses, regardless of taxon or anatomical focus. However, an important caveat is that the functional and structural hypotheses tested here predicted much higher degrees of integration than were observed. This result warns strongly that hypotheses of integration must be tested before they can be adequately employed in phylogenetic analysis. The uncritical acceptance of an untested hypothesis of integration is likely to be as disruptive to a cladistic analysis as when integration is ignored. Am J Phys Anthropol 114:273–297, 2001. © 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.