Morphological integration in the forelimb of musteloid carnivorans



The forelimb forms a functional unit that allows a variety of behaviours and needs to be mobile, yet at the same time stable. Both mobility and stability are controlled, amongst others, at the level of the elbow joint. This joint is composed of the humero-ulnar articulation, mainly involved during parasagittal movements; and the radio-ulnar articulation, mainly allowing rotation. In contrast, the humero-radial articulation allows both movements of flexion–extension and rotation. Here, we study the morphological integration between each bone of the forelimb at the level of the entire arm, as well as at the elbow joint, in musteloid carnivorans. To do so, we quantitatively test shape co-variation using surface 3D geometric morphometric data. Our results show that morphological integration is stronger for bones that form functional units. Different results are obtained depending on the level of investigation: for the entire arm, results show a greater degree of shape co-variation between long bones of the lower arm than between the humerus and either bone of the lower arm. Thus, at this level the functional unit of the lower arm is comprised of the radius and ulna, permitting rotational movements of the lower arm. At the level of the elbow, results display a stronger shape co-variation between bones allowing flexion and stability (humerus and ulna) than between bones allowing mobility (ulna and radius and humerus and radius). Thus, the critical functional unit appears to be the articulation between the humerus and ulna providing the stability of the joint.