Functional and ecological significance of relative growth in Alligator

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Abstract

Allometric coefficients are calculated for 27 cranial and 39 postcranial measurements of a growth series of Alligator mississipiensis that spans a size range of an order of magnitude. Developmental patterns are quite-well canalized, as expressed in coefficients of variation of 8 to 10 for isometric variables. A multivariate expression of allometry is discovered using principal components analysis. A number of allometric coefficients have expression in known aspects of the life history of Alligator. Negative allometry of limb lengths and limb proportions shows an ontogenetic decrease in importance of the limbs throughout life, and observations show large animals to be more dependent on water than small ones. Isometry of skull length with respect to body length represents an adaptation to ever-increasing size of prey items as body size increases. Positive allometry of snout length and size of the upper temporal fenestrae finds parallel in the structure of the highly aquatic gavial.

Ancillary