Send to

Choose Destination
J Hum Evol. 2014 Aug;73:47-57. doi: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2014.02.023. Epub 2014 Jul 16.

Ecomorphology and phylogenetic risk: Implications for habitat reconstruction using fossil bovids.

Author information

Department of Anthropology, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, 131 George Street, RAB 306, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-1414, USA. Electronic address:
Department of Anthropology, University of Texas at Austin, SAC 5.188, 2201 Speedway Stop C3200, Austin, TX 78712, USA. Electronic address:


Reconstructions of paleohabitats are necessary aids in understanding hominin evolution. The morphology of species from relevant sites, understood in terms of functional relationships to habitat (termed ecomorphology), offers a direct link to habitat. Bovids are a speciose radiation that includes many habitat specialists and are abundant in the fossil record. Thus, bovids are extremely common in ecomorphological analyses. However, bovid phylogeny and habitat preference are related, which raises the possibility that analyses linking habitat with morphology are not 'taxon free' but 'taxon-dependent.' Here we analyze eight relative dimensions and one shape index of the metatarsal for a sample of 72 bovid species and one antilocaprid. The selected variables have been previously shown to have strong associations with habitat and to have functional explanations for these associations. Phylogenetic generalized least squares analyses of these variables, including habitat and size, resulted in estimates for the parameter lambda (used to model phylogenetic signal) varying from zero to one. Thus, while phylogeny, morphology, and habitat all march together among the bovids, the odds that phylogeny confounds ecomorphological analyses may vary depending on particular morphological characteristics. While large values of lambda do not necessarily indicate that habitat differences are unimportant drivers of morphology, we consider the low value of lambda for relative metatarsal width suggestive that conclusions about habitat built on observations of this particular morphology carry with them less 'phylogenetic risk.' We suggest that the way forward for ecomorphology is grounded in functionally relevant observations and careful consideration of phylogeny designed to bracket probable habitat preferences appropriately. Separate consideration of different morphological variables may help to determine the level of 'phylogenetic risk' attached to conclusions linking habitat and morphology.


Brownian motion model; Metapodial; Paleoecology; Phylogenetic generalized least squares; Phylogenetic signal; Taxon-free approach

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Elsevier Science
Loading ...
Support Center