SEARCH

SEARCH BY CITATION

SUMMARY Understanding the developmental and genetic basis for evolutionarily significant morphological variation in complex phenotypes such as the mammalian skull is a challenge because of the sheer complexity of the factors involved. We hypothesize that even in this complex system, the expression of phenotypic variation is structured by the interaction of a few key developmental processes. To test this hypothesis, we created a highly variable sample of crania using four mouse mutants and their wild-type controls from similar genetic backgrounds with developmental perturbations to particular cranial regions. Using geometric morphometric methods we compared patterns of size, shape, and integration in the sample within and between the basicranium, neurocranium, and face. The results highlight regular and predictable patterns of covariation among regions of the skull that presumably reflect the epigenetic influences of the genetic perturbations in the sample. Covariation between relative widths of adjoining regions is the most dominant factor, but there are other significant axes of covariation such as the relationship between neurocranial size and basicranial flexion. Although there are other sources of variation related to developmental perturbations not analyzed in this study, the patterns of covariation created by the epigenetic interactions evident in this sample may underlie larger scale evolutionary patterns in mammalian craniofacial form.