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Keywords:

  • Craniofacial growth;
  • geometric morphometrics;
  • morphological integration;
  • Riemannian metric;
  • space of covariance matrices

Many classic quantitative genetic theories assume the covariance structure among adult phenotypic traits to be relatively static during evolution. But the cross-sectional covariance matrix arises from the joint variation of a large range of developmental processes and hence is not constant over the period during which a population of developing organisms is actually exposed to selection. To examine how development shapes the phenotypic covariance structure, we ordinate the age-specific covariance matrices of shape coordinates for craniofacial growth in rats and humans. The metric that we use for this purpose is given by the square root of the summed squared log relative eigenvalues. This is the natural metric on the space of positive-definite symmetric matrices, which we introduce and justify in a biometric context. In both species, the covariance matrices appear to change continually throughout the full period of postnatal development. The resulting ontogenetic trajectories alter their direction at major changes of the developmental programs whereas they are fairly straight in between. Consequently, phenotypic covariance matrices—and thus also response to selection—should be expected to vary both over ontogenetic and phylogenetic time scales as different phenotypes are necessarily produced by different developmental pathways.