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Variation at high latitudes: the geography of body size and cranial morphology of the muskox, Ovibos moschatus

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Abstract Aim

Bergmann's rule, one of the most studied and controversial ecogeographical generalizations, has rarely been tested with observations from high latitudes. We tested the rule using cranial measurements of the muskox [Ovibos moschatus (Zimmerman)], a homeotherm with an extremely northern distribution. We also used these data to describe geographical patterns in the species' dental architecture, an extension of the framework developed from interspecific comparisons. Location

Specimens were compiled from arctic Canada, Alaska and Greenland, a latitudinal range of 60° N−83° N. Methods

Body size was estimated from principal components analysis (PCA) of five cranial characters from 128 specimens. Mean scores on the first principal component from each locality were regressed against latitude and mean temperature to identify geographical variation in body size; scores on the second principal component were regressed against latitude to assess patterns in dental architecture. Regression analyses of the individual characters were performed as a complement to PCA. Results

No latitudinal or climatic trend in body size was observed in either sex. On the other hand, for males, significant latitudinal variation was found for the second PCA axis (r = −0.434), and the feature which loaded most heavily on it, maxillary tooth row length (r = 0.429). For females, this dental structure also tended to increase with latitude (r = 0.423), but the trend was only marginally significant (P=0.12), perhaps owing to a smaller sample size. Main conclusions

The geographically invariant body size of muskoxen failed to support current hypotheses of size variation. Behavioural and physiological adaptations may exempt the muskox from selective pressures underlying these hypotheses. We interpret latitudinal variation in dental architecture as a reflection of a cline in diet, dominated by graminoids at the expense of willows at higher latitudes. This intraspecific geographical trend is a recapitulation of the interspecific framework for large mammalian herbivores.

Keywords: Arctic; Bergmann's rule; Ovibos; body size; dental architecture; diet; latitude

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Biology Department, Trent University, Peterborough, Ont., Canada, and 2: Department of Sustainable Development, Kugluktuk, NU, Canada

Publication date: 2002-08-01

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