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Cranial modularity and sequence heterochrony in mammals


  • Anjali Goswami

    1. Committee on Evolutionary Biology, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA
    2. Department of Geology, The Field Museum, 1400 S. Lake Shore Dr., Chicago, IL 60605, USA
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    • 1Present address: Department of Palaeontology, The Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD, UK.



SUMMARY Heterochrony, the temporal shifting of developmental events relative to each other, requires a degree of autonomy among those processes or structures. Modularity, the division of larger structures or processes into autonomous sets of internally integrated units, is often discussed in relation to the concept of heterochrony. However, the relationship between the developmental modules derived from studies of heterochrony and evolutionary modules, which should be of adaptive importance and relate to the genotype–phenotype map, has not been explicitly studied. I analyzed a series of sectioned and whole cleared-and-stained embryological and neonatal specimens, supplemented with published ontogenetic data, to test the hypothesis that bones within the same phenotypic modules, as determined by morphometric analysis, are developmentally integrated and will display coordinated heterochronic shifts across taxa. Modularity was analyzed in cranial bone ossification sequences of 12 therian mammals. A dataset of 12–18 developmental events was used to assess if modularity in developmental sequences corresponds to six phenotypic modules, derived from a recent morphometric analysis of cranial modularity in mammals. Kendall's τ was used to measure rank correlations, with randomization tests for significance. If modularity in developmental sequences corresponds to observed phenotypic modules, bones within a single phenotypic module should show integration of developmental timing, maintaining the same timing of ossification relative to each other, despite differences in overall ossification sequences across taxa. Analyses did not find any significant conservation of developmental timing within the six phenotypic modules, meaning that bones that are highly integrated in adult morphology are not significantly integrated in developmental timing.