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Keywords:

  • 3D geometric morphometrics;
  • body size;
  • comparative analysis;
  • elbow joint;
  • humerus;
  • radius;
  • ulna

In the majority of mammals, the limbs are positioned under the body and play an important role in gravitational support, allowing the transfer of the load and providing stability to the animal. For this reason, an animal's body mass likely has a significant effect on the shape of its limb bones. In the present study, we investigate the influence of body mass variation on the shape of the three long bones of the forelimb in a group of closely-related species of mammals: the musteloid carnivorans. We use geometric morphometric techniques to quantify forelimb shape; then estimate phylogenetic signal in the shape of each long bone; and, finally, we apply an independent contrasts approach to assess evolutionary associations between forelimb shape and body mass. The results obtained show that body mass evolution is tightly coordinated with the evolution of forelimb shape, although not equally in all elements. In particular, the humeral and radial shapes of heavier species appear better suited for load bearing and load transmission than the ulna. Nevertheless, our results also show that body mass influences only part of forelimb long bone shape and that other factors, such as locomotor ecology, must be considered to fully understand forelimb evolution. © 2013 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2013, 110, 91–103.