Shape, variance and integration during craniogenesis: contrasting marsupial and placental mammals


Anjali Goswami, Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment, University College London, Darwin Building, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, UK.
Tel.: +44 20 7679 2190; fax: +44 20 7679 7193; e-mail:


Studies of morphological integration can provide insight into developmental patterns, even in extinct taxa known only from skeletal remains, thus making them an important tool for studies of evolutionary development. However, interpreting patterns of integration and assessing their significance for organismal evolution requires detailed understanding of the developmental interactions that shape integration and how those interactions change through ontogeny. Thus far, relatively little comparative data have been produced for this important topic, and the data that do exist are overwhelmingly from humans and their close relatives or from laboratory models such as mice. Here, we compare data on shape, variance and integration through postnatal ontogeny for a placental mammal, the least shrew, Cryptotis parva, and a marsupial mammal, the gray short-tailed opossum, Monodelphis domestica. Cranial variance decreased dramatically from early to late ontogeny in Cryptotis, but remained stable through ontogeny in Monodelphis, potentially reflecting functional constraints related to the short gestation and early ossification of oral bones in marsupials. Both Cryptotis and Monodelphis showed significant changes in cranial integration through ontogeny, with a mixture of increased, decreased and stable levels of integration in different cranial regions. Of particular note is that Monodelphis showed an unambiguous decrease in integration of the oral region through ontogeny, potentially relating to their early ossification. Selection at different stages of development may have markedly different effects if patterns of integration change substantially through ontogeny. Our results suggest that high integration of the oral region combined with functional constraints for suckling during early postnatal ontogeny may drive the stagnant variance observed in Monodelphis and potentially other marsupials.