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PLoS One. 2009;4(3):e4742. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0004742. Epub 2009 Mar 9.

Three-dimensional geometric analysis of felid limb bone allometry.

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Department of Bioengineering, Imperial College London, South Kensington, London, United Kingdom.

Erratum in

  • PLoS One. 2009;4(4). doi: 10.1371/annotation/5435c6bd-12d3-4bb4-97b7-4e96d4773525. Conroy, Alexis Wiktorowicz [corrected to Wiktorowicz-Conroy, Alexis].



Studies of bone allometry typically use simple measurements taken in a small number of locations per bone; often the midshaft diameter or joint surface area is compared to body mass or bone length. However, bones must fulfil multiple roles simultaneously with minimum cost to the animal while meeting the structural requirements imposed by behaviour and locomotion, and not exceeding its capacity for adaptation and repair. We use entire bone volumes from the forelimbs and hindlimbs of Felidae (cats) to investigate regional complexities in bone allometry.


Computed tomographic (CT) images (16435 slices in 116 stacks) were made of 9 limb bones from each of 13 individuals of 9 feline species ranging in size from domestic cat (Felis catus) to tiger (Panthera tigris). Eleven geometric parameters were calculated for every CT slice and scaling exponents calculated at 5% increments along the entire length of each bone. Three-dimensional moments of inertia were calculated for each bone volume, and spherical radii were measured in the glenoid cavity, humeral head and femoral head. Allometry of the midshaft, moments of inertia and joint radii were determined. Allometry was highly variable and related to local bone function, with joint surfaces and muscle attachment sites generally showing stronger positive allometry than the midshaft.


Examining whole bones revealed that bone allometry is strongly affected by regional variations in bone function, presumably through mechanical effects on bone modelling. Bone's phenotypic plasticity may be an advantage during rapid evolutionary divergence by allowing exploitation of the full size range that a morphotype can occupy. Felids show bone allometry rather than postural change across their size range, unlike similar-sized animals.

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