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evolution of mammalian body shape

The diversity of body shapes is one of the most prominent features of phenotypic variation in vertebrates. Biologists, however, still lack a full understanding of the underlying morphological components and ecological factors that contribute to its diversity, particularly in endothermic vertebrates such as mammals. As an NSF Postdoctoral Fellow and Gerstner Scholar, I generated the first quantitative database of mammalian body shapes using skeletal specimens and tested hypotheses pertaining to the evolutionary integration of the cranial, axial, and appendicular components that contribute to its diversity as well as its adaptive significance.

Carnivora is a morphological and ecological diverse clade of mammals with high species richness (>280 species; 4th largest mammalian order), large range of body sizes from the 200 g least weasel to the 4,000 kg southern elephant seal, as well as a diverse range of body shapes from robust bears to streamlined seals and elongate weasels. I found that the diversity of body shapes between carnivoran families was best predicted by clade age but not rates of body shape evolution or species richness. This suggests that older families simply had more evolutionary time to accumulate more diverse body shapes than younger families.


Read more:

Law CJ. 2021. Evolutionary and morphological patterns underlying carnivoran body shape diversity. Evolution. 75:365-375.