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Syst Biol. 2003 Apr;52(2):186-205.

The geometry of the marmot (rodentia: sciuridae) mandible: phylogeny and patterns of morphological evolution.

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Division of Mammals, Department of Vertebrate Zoology, NHB 390, MRC 108, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, P.O. Box 37012, Washington, DC 20013-7012, USA.


Marmots have a prominent role in the study of mammalian social evolution, but only recently has their systematics received the attention it deserves if sociobiological studies are to be placed in a phylogenetic context. Sciurid morphology can be used as model to test the congruence between morphological change and phylogeny because sciurid skeletal characters are considered to be inclined to convergence. However, no morphological study involving all marmot species has ever been undertaken. Geometric morphometric techniques were applied in a comparative study of the marmot mandible. The adults of all 14 living marmot species were compared, and mean mandible shape were used to investigate morphological evolution in the genus Marmota. Three major trends were observed. First, the phylogenetic signal in the variation of landmark geometry, which describes mandible morphology, seems to account for the shape differences at intermediate taxonomic levels. The subgenera Marmota and Petromarmota, recently proposed on the basis of mitochondrial cytochrome b sequence, receive support from mandible morphology. When other sciurid genera were included in the analysis, the monophyly of the genus Marmota and that of the tribe Marmotini (i.e., marmots, prairie dogs, and ground squirrels) was strengthened by the morphological data. Second, the marmotine mandible may have evolved as a mosaic of characters and does not show convergence determined by size similarities. Third, allopatric speciation in peripheral isolates may have acted as a powerful force for modeling shape. This hypothesis is strongly supported by the peculiar mandible of M. vancouverensis and, to a lesser degree, by that of M. olympus, both thought to have originated as isolated populations in Pleistocene ice-free refugia.

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