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Evolutionary changes in craniomandibular shape in the great cats (Neofelis Griffith and Panthera Oken)

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Evolutionary shape changes in skull and mandibular anatomy was analysed in 223 specimens of pantherine felids (Neofelis nebulosa, Panthera leo, Panthera onca, Panthera pardus, Panthera tigris, Panthera uncia) compared to a small-felid outgroup, consisting of 86 specimens of nine different species, using digital surface morphometry on 25 (skull) and 17 (mandible) landmarks. Shape evolution in the pantherine species is complex and nonlinear, and involves both large-scale and small-scale shape changes. Shape changes frequently differ among the ingroup species, but the four large Panthera species (leo, onca, pardus, tigris) bear some resemblance to each other. The leopard and jaguar bear the closest resemblance to each other, and several shape changes are common to the lion and tiger, but have probably evolved convergently as a result of large size. The lion has undergone the largest and most numerous shape changes from a small-felid outgroup. Certain shape changes in the skull and, in some respects, the mandible of the clouded leopard bear resemblance to those in the four large Panthera species. The snow leopard is often regarded as the most primitive of the extant Panthera, and skull and mandibular shape changes often diverge markedly from those observed in the other five ingroup taxa; its overall skull shape is rather similar to the small-felid outgroup. This indicates that the shape changes in the clouded leopard are convergent with those of the four large Panthera species. Landmark integration showed no significant correlation with molecular phylogeny, chiefly owing to the snow leopard being placed among the four large Panthera species. A traditional phylogenetic topology with the snow leopard as the basal-most species of Panthera yielded a weak but nonsignificant phylogenetic signal. © 2008 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2008, 95, 766–778.
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Keywords: Pantherinae; evolution; landmarks; morphology; phylogeny; shape changes

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 December 2008

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