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Evolution. 2007 May;61(5):1251-60.

Convergence and remarkably consistent constraint in the evolution of carnivore skull shape.

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School of Biological, Earth, and Environmental Sciences, The University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.


Phenotypic similarities between distantly related marsupials and placentals are commonly presented as examples of convergence and support for the role of adaptive evolution in shaping morphological and ecological diversity. Here we compare skull shape in a wide range of carnivoran placentals (Carnivora) and nonherbivorous marsupials using a three-dimensional (3-D) geometric morphometric approach. Morphological and ecological diversity among extant carnivorans is considerably greater than is evident in the marsupial order Dasyuromorphia with which they have most commonly been compared. To examine convergence across a wider, but broadly comparable range of feeding ecologies, a dataset inclusive of nondasyuromorphian marsupials and extinct taxa representing morphotypes no longer present was assembled. We found support for the adaptive paradigm, with correlations between morphology, feeding behavior, and bite force, although skull shape better predicted feeding ecology in the phylogenetically diverse marsupial sample than in carnivorans. However, we also show that remarkably consistent but differing constraints have influenced the evolution of cranial shape in both groups. These differences between carnivorans and marsupials, which correlate with brain size and bite force, are maintained across the full gamut of morphologies and feeding categories, from small insectivores and omnivores to large meat-specialists.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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