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Keywords:

  • Bats;
  • echolocation;
  • integration;
  • modularity;
  • Rhinolophidae;
  • Rhinolophus ;
  • skull

Abstract

In vertebrates, changes in cranial modularity can evolve rapidly in response to selection. However, mammals have apparently maintained their pattern of cranial integration throughout their evolutionary history and across tremendous morphological and ecological diversity. Here, we use phylogenetic, geometric morphometric and comparative analyses to test the hypothesis that the modularity of the mammalian skull has been remodelled in rhinolophid bats due to the novel and critical function of the nasal cavity in echolocation. We predicted that nasal echolocation has resulted in the evolution of a third cranial module, the ‘nasal dome’, in addition to the braincase and rostrum modules, which are conserved across mammals. We also test for similarities in the evolution of skull shape in relation to habitat across rhinolophids. We find that, despite broad variation in the shape of the nasal dome, the integration of the rhinolophid skull is highly consistent with conserved patterns of modularity found in other mammals. Across their broad geographical distribution, cranial shape in rhinolophids follows two major divisions that could reflect adaptations to dietary and environmental differences in African versus South Asian distributions. Our results highlight the potential of a relatively simple modular template to generate broad morphological and functional variation in mammals.