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Keywords:

  • lemur;
  • locomotion;
  • ontogeny;
  • selection gradient;
  • heritability

Abstract

In many primate species, hands and feet are large relative to neonatal body weight, and they subsequently exhibit negative allometric growth during ontogeny. Here, data are presented showing that this pattern holds for a wild population of lemur, Verreaux's sifaka (Propithecus verreauxi verreauxi). Using morphometric data collected on this population, it is shown that younger animals possess relatively large hands and feet. This ontogenetic pattern suggests a simple behavioral test: do juvenile animals with their larger, almost adult-sized hands and feet locomote on similarly sized substrates as adult animals? Using locomotor bout sampling, this question was tested by collecting positional behavior data on this population. Results from this test find no differences in locomotor behaviors or substrate use between yearlings and adult animals. To place these results in a broader evolutionary context, heritabilities and selection gradients of hands, feet, and other limb elements for animals in this population were estimated. Among limb elements, heritabilities range from 0.16–0.44, with the foot having the lowest value. Positive directional selection acts most strongly on the foot (directional selection gradient = 0.119). The low heritability and positive selection coefficient indicate that selection has acted, and continues to act, on foot size in young animals. These results are interpreted within a functional context with respect to the development of locomotor coordination: larger feet enable young animals to use “adult-sized” substrates when they move through their habitat. It is suggested that the widespread pattern of negative allometry of the extremities in sifaka and other primates is maintained by selection, and does not simply reflect a primitive developmental pathway that has no adaptive basis. Am J Phys Anthropol 131:261–271, 2006. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.