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A geometric morphometric approach to the study of ecogeographical and clinal variation in vervet monkeys

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Abstract  Aim 

To examine and visualize clines in size and shape of Cercopithecus aethiops Linneus, 1758 (Primate, Cercopithecidae) skulls, and to investigate environmental factors which might best explain the observed variation. Location 

Sub-Saharan Africa. Methods 

Eighty-six three-dimensional anatomical landmarks were used to describe 306 skulls of adult C. aethiops sampled over its entire distribution. Geometric morphometric methods for the quantitative analysis of form variation were applied. Size and shape variables were computed and regressed onto geographical coordinates and environmental variables (elevation, temperature, rainfall, moisture and Shannon rainfall diversity index) using both linear and curvilinear models. Components (geographical, environmental, spatially structured environmental and residual) of ecogeographical variation in skull form were partitioned using partial regression. A novel approach for summarizing and visualizing nonlinear patterns of clinal variation using surface rendering of three-dimensional shapes is presented. Results 

Clinal variation in size and shape was highly significant, and was best described by curvilinear models. There were strong similarities between females and males. The cline in size was especially pronounced, explaining up to about 40% of observed variation, and was mainly longitudinal rather than latitudinal. A major trend of clinal shape variation also occurred from west to east, and corresponded to an expansion of the face relative to the neurocranium in the west. In the east, skulls also tended to be deeper and with narrower zygomatic arches. Geography and the spatially structured environmental component were the major contributors to the explained variance in size in both sexes, but the proportion of variance explained by the latter was smaller in females. In contrast, geography and environment explained similar amounts of variation in shape and their contribution was about twice that of the spatially structured environmental component. About 60–80% of variation in skull form was not explained by any variable in the analysis. The main factors influencing skull size differed in females and males, with rainfall being very influential in males. Both female and male skull shapes were strongly affected by average annual rainfall. Main conclusions 

A strong spatial and environmental basis to variations in African vervet monkey skull form was evident. However, the observed pattern did not conform to predictions based on Bergmann's rule. Rainfall consistently emerged as an important predictor, which may contribute to intraspecific variation in the size and shape of vervet monkey skulls through its effect on habitat productivity.

Keywords: Africa; Bergmann's rule; Cercopithecus aethiops; clinal variation; curvilinear models; geometric morphometrics; rainfall and productivity; skull size/shape; surface rendering; vervet monkeys

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Hull York Medical School, The University of Hull, Cottingham Road, Hull HU6 7RX, UK

Publication date: 2007-10-01

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