Constraints on form may determine how organisms diversify. As a result of competition for the limited space within the body, investment in adjacent structures could represent an evolutionary compromise. For example, evolutionary trade-offs resulting from limited space in the head could have influenced how the sizes of the jaw muscle, as well as the eyes, evolved in North American cyprinid fishes. To test the evolutionary independence of the size of these structures, we measured the mass of the three major adductor mandibulae muscles and determined the eye volume in 36 cyprinid species. Using a novel phylogeny, we tested the hypotheses that the sizes of these four structures were negatively correlated with each other during cyprinid evolution. We found that evolutionary change in the adductor mandibulae muscles was generally positively and/or not correlated, suggesting that competition for space among cyprinid jaw muscles has not influenced their evolution. However, there was a negative relationship between mass of adductor mandibulae 1 and eye volume, indicating that change in these physically adjacent structures is consistent with an evolutionary constructional constraint. © 2011 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2011, 103, 136–146.