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Keywords:

  • body size;
  • comparative studies;
  • ecological axes;
  • molecular phylogeny;
  • morphometrics;
  • natural selection;
  • semilandmarks

Abstract

One of the central topics in evolutionary biology is understanding the processes responsible for phenotypic diversification related to ecological factors. New World monkeys are an excellent reference system to investigate processes of diversification at macroevolutionary scales. Here, we investigate the cranial shape diversification related to body size and ecology during the phylogenetic branching process of platyrrhines. To investigate this diversification, we used geometric morphometric techniques, a molecular phylogenetic tree, ecological data and phylogenetic comparative methods. Our statistical analyses demonstrated that the phylogenetic branching process is the most important dimension to understand cranial shape variation among extant platyrrhines and suggested that the main shape divergence among the four principal platyrrhine clades probably occurred during the initial branching process. The phylogenetic conservatism, which is the retention of ancestral traits over time within the four principal platyrrhine clades, could be the most important characteristic of platyrrhine cranial shape diversification. Different factors might have driven early shape divergence and posterior relative conservatism, including genetic drift, stabilizing selection, genetic constraints owing to pleiotropy, developmental or functional constraint, lack of genetic variation, among others. Understanding the processes driving the diversification among platyrrhines will probably require further palaeontological, phylogenetic and comparative studies.