Flightlessness affects cranial morphology in birds

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Abstract

Flightless birds belonging to phylogenetically distant clades share several morphological features in the pectoral and pelvic apparatus. There are indications that skull morphology is also influenced by flightlessness. In this study we used a large number of flightless species to test whether flightlessness in modern birds does indeed affect cranial morphology. Discriminant analyses and variation partitioning show evidence for a relationship between skull morphology and the flightless condition in birds. A possible explanation for the change in cranial morphology can be linked to the reduced selective force for light-weight skulls in flightless birds. This makes an increase in muscle mass, and therefore an enlargement of muscle insertion areas on the skull, possible. We also compared the ontogenetic trajectory of Gallus with the adult morphology of a sample of flightless species to see whether the apomorphic features characterizing the skull of flightless birds share the same developmental basis, which would indicate convergent evolution by parallelism. Skull morphology (expressed as principal component scores) of palaeognathous flightless birds (ratites) is dissimilar (higher scores) to juvenile stages of the chicken and therefore seem peramorphic (overdeveloped). Principal component scores of adult neognathous flightless birds fall within the range of chicken development, so no clear conclusions about the ontogenetic trajectories leading to their sturdier skull morphology could be drawn
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)75-84
JournalZoology : Analysis of Complex Systems
Volume116
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2013

Keywords

  • phylogenetic analysis
  • genome sequences
  • aves
  • evolution
  • palaeognathae
  • characters
  • hypothesis
  • palatinum
  • reveals
  • complex

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