The taxonomic and functional significance of overall body proportions in Primates

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Abstract

Univariate and multivariate study of 22 dimensions describing overall body proportions in 34 primate genera, has shown that these quantities effect a separation between the principal taxonomic divisions of the Primates: Prosimii, Ceboidea, Cercopithecoidea and Hominoidea. The last three do not, however, link to form a single unit, and the separation between the Ceboidea and Cercopithecoidea is imperfect. Some grouping within these major divisions appears, in certain aspects, to be of functional (locomotor), rather than of purely taxonomic, significance. For instance, within the Prosimii, the genera Microcebus, Galago and Tarsius (the two latter being saltatory forms, while leaping is a component of the locomotor pattern of the first) are associated, while within the apes, the Asiatic forms Hylobates, Symphalangus and Pongo (all brachiators) tend to be grouped, as also do the African forms Pan and Gorilla (both, to a large extent, secondarily terrestrial in habit).

The measures especially prominent in effecting this pattern of discrimination are: relative foot length, relative lower limb length and length of foot relative to lower limb length.

Similar, if less clearly defined results emerge if groups of dimensions relating to individual body regions (forelimb, hindlimb, head and trunk) are analysed separately.

The apparent failure of compounds of the measures of the limbs to give an anticipated close reflection of locomotor function stems possibly from the fact that the available dimensions are of an overall nature rather than a reflection of specific biomechanical functions. Such sub-division, according with locomotor pattern as seems to emerge from this study, appears, in fact, to be little more than that implied in current taxonomic schemata.

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