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A geometric morphometric assessment of the effects of environment and cladogenesis on the evolution of the turtle shell

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In the largest group of extant turtles, the Testudinoidea, the acquisition of an aquatic or terrestrial way of life has occurred within two clades, allowing the study of homoplasy linked to environment (commonly named convergence). Here we appraise the respective importance of two sources of morphological variation: a major cladogenetic event and a major environmental shift (aquatic vs. terrestrial). The repeatability of the same evolutionary process (environmental change) allows an assessment of the weights of both natural selection and phylogenetic constraints on several morphological features of the shell. These sources of morphological variance on the complex shell structure were studied using geometric morphometrics. We depict the morphological variation of three parts of the turtle shell: epidermal carapace, bony carapace, and plastron. In the three structures, we found that both phylogeny and environment were significant sources of morphological variation, and geometric morphometrics allowed the pattern of morphological variation due to each effect to be assessed. The assessment of the homoplasy due to environment and of the pattern of morphological variability suggests that the carapace has undergone similar morphological changes between aquatic and terrestrial environments within the two clades. The radiation of the Testudinoidea is interpreted as an adaptive radiation. © 2003 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2003, 79, 485–501.
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Keywords: Testudinoidea; adaptive radiation; geometric morphometrics; morphological evolution; natural selection; phyletic constraints; turtles

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Institut des Sciences de l’Evolution, Université de Montpellier 2, UMR 5554 CNRS, Cc 064, 2, Place Eugène Bataillon, 34095 Montpellier cedex 5, France 2: 16 cour du Liégat, 75013 Paris, France

Publication date: 2003-07-01

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