Abstract Similarity of genetic and phenotypic variation patterns among populations is important for making quantitative inferences about past evolutionary forces acting to differentiate populations and for evaluating the evolution of relationships among traits in response to new functional and developmental relationships. Here, phenotypic co-variance and correlation structure is compared among Platyrrhine Neotropical primates. Comparisons range from among species within a genus to the superfamily level. Matrix correlation followed by Mantel's test and vector correlation among responses to random natural selection vectors (random skewers) were used to compare correlation and variance/covariance matrices of 39 skull traits. Sampling errors involved in matrix estimates were taken into account in comparisons using matrix repeatability to set upper limits for each pairwise comparison.
Results indicate that covariance structure is not strictly constant but that the amount of variance pattern divergence observed among taxa is generally low and not associated with taxonomic distance. Specific instances of divergence are identified. There is no correlation between the amount of divergence in covariance patterns among the 16 genera and their phylogenetic distance derived from a conjoint analysis of four already published nuclear gene datasets. In contrast, there is a significant correlation between phylogenetic distance and morphological distance (Mahalanobis distance among genus centroids). This result indicates that while the phenotypic means were evolving during the last 30 millions years of New World monkey evolution, phenotypic covariance structures of Neotropical primate skulls have remained relatively consistent.
Neotropical primates can be divided into four major groups based on their feeding habits (fruit-leaves, seed-fruits, insect-fruits, and gum-insect-fruits). Differences in phenotypic covariance structure are correlated with differences in feeding habits, indicating that to some extent changes in interrelationships among skull traits are associated with changes in feeding habits. Finally, common patterns and levels of morphological integration are found among Platyrrhine primates, suggesting that functional/developmental integration could be one major factor keeping covariance structure relatively stable during evolutionary diversification of South American monkeys.