The skull of most subterranean tooth-digging rodents is markedly affected by their digging mode. In the present study, we investigated the cranial variation in a strictly subterranean, highly specialized Afrotropical tooth-digger, Heliophobius argenteocinereus (Bathyergidae, Rodentia), using a geometric morphometric approach and evaluated the effect of different factors on size and shape differences among four populations. No evidence for sexual dimorphism was found in skull size or shape. The cranial shape variation was large and influenced mainly by the type of habitat (miombo woodland versus farmland and grassland) and the latitudinal gradient. The dorsal side of the skull appears to be more plastic and adaptable to local environments, as well as more independent of size, than the ventral side. Only the shortening of the rostrum is presumably an adaptive process independent of size that leads to an increase of efficacy of the tooth-digging apparatus in Heliophobius, whereas the increase in the in-force and the more procumbent incisors both comprise size-related changes caused by ontogenetic allometric growth. © 2009 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2009, 97, 822–831.
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Document Type: Research Article
Department of Zoology, Faculty of Science, University of South Bohemia, Branišovská 31, 370 05 České Budějovice, Czech Republic
Department of General Zoology, Institute of Biology, University of Duisburg–Essen, Universitätsstrasse 5, 45117 Essen, Germany
Publication date: 2009-08-01