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Am J Phys Anthropol. 2011 Nov;146(3):435-45. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.21599. Epub 2011 Sep 27.

The correspondence between proximal phalanx morphology and locomotion: implications for inferring the locomotor behavior of fossil catarrhines.

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Department of Anthropology, New York University, New York Consortium in Evolutionary Primatology (NYCEP), New York, NY 10003, USA.


Phalanges are considered to be highly informative in the reconstruction of extinct primate locomotor behavior since these skeletal elements directly interact with the substrate during locomotion. Variation in shaft curvature and relative phalangeal length has been linked to differences in the degree of suspension and overall arboreal locomotor activities. Building on previous work, this study investigated these two skeletal characters in a comparative context to analyze function, while taking evolutionary relationships into account. This study examined the correspondence between proportions of suspension and overall substrate usage observed in 17 extant taxa and included angle of curvature and relative phalangeal length. Predictive models based on these traits are reported. Published proportions of different locomotor behaviors were regressed against each phalangeal measurement and a size proxy. The relationship between each behavior and skeletal trait was investigated using ordinary least-squares, phylogenetic generalized least-squares (pGLS), and two pGLS transformation methods to determine the model of best-fit. Phalangeal curvature and relative length had significant positive relationships with both suspension and overall arboreal locomotion. Cross-validation analyses demonstrated that relative length and curvature provide accurate predictions of relative suspensory behavior and substrate usage in a range of extant species when used together in predictive models. These regression equations provide a refined method to assess the amount of suspensory and overall arboreal locomotion characterizing species in the catarrhine fossil record.

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