Geometric morphometric study of the skull shape diversification in Sciuridae (Mammalia, Rodentia)



It is generally accepted that the high phenotypic diversity of mammals is a combined result of developmental constraint and ecological adaptation, although the influence of these endogenous and exogenous factors varies in different mammal groups. The rodent family Sciuridae represents an ideal candidate for examining phenotypic diversity in relation to phylogeny and ecological adaptations. In the present study, we investigate the effects of phylogeny and lifestyle on the skull shape in different species of Sciuridae by applying geometric morphometric methods. In addition, we investigate the importance of allometry on sciurid skull shape, because results from geometric morphometrics sometimes dispute those of traditional morphometry. Here, we identify significant associations between patristic distances obtained from molecular phylogeny and shape distances in all 3 views of the cranium and the lateral view of the mandible. Multivariate regression demonstrates that shape differences among lifestyle categories are substantial, especially in the dorsal and ventral structures after the influence of phylogeny is taken into account. Allometry plays an important role in the shape variation, although its importance on different skull structures varies. Our results indicate that complex structures of this highly diverse mammal group, which occupies different niches, are affected by ecological factors and developmental constraint.