How Effective Are Geometric Morphometric Techniques for Assessing Functional Shape Variation? An Example From the Great Ape Temporomandibular Joint


Correspondence to: Claire E. Terhune; Department of Community and Family Medicine, Duke University Medical Center, Box 104780, Durham, NC 27710. Fax: (919)-684-1846. E-mail:


Functional shape analyses have long relied on the use of shape ratios to test biomechanical hypotheses. This method is powerful because of the ease with which results are interpreted, but these techniques fall short in quantifying complex morphologies that may not have a strong biomechanical foundation but may still be functionally informative. In contrast, geometric morphometric methods are continually being adopted for quantifying complex shapes, but they tend to prove inadequate in functional analyses because they have little foundation in an explicit biomechanical framework. The goal of this study was to evaluate the intersection of these two methods using the great ape temporomandibular joint as a case study. Three-dimensional coordinates of glenoid fossa and mandibular condyle shape were collected using a Microscribe digitizer. Linear distances extracted from these landmarks were analyzed using a series of one-way ANOVAs; further, the landmark configurations were analyzed using geometric morphometric techniques. Results suggest that the two methods are broadly similar, although the geometric morphometric data allow for the identification of shape differences among taxa that were not immediately apparent in the univariate analyses. Furthermore, this study suggests several new approaches for translating these shape data into a biomechanical context by adjusting the data using a biomechanically relevant variable. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.