Specimen ID: FMNH 52642
microCT scan of Brachymeles gracilis
Authors: Ryan N. Felice and Anjali Goswami
Journal: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, U.S.A.
Mosaic evolution, which results from multiple influences shaping morphological traits and can lead to the presence of a mixture of ancestral and derived characteristics, has been frequently invoked in describing evolutionary patterns in birds. Mosaicism implies the hierarchical organization of organismal traits into semiautonomous subsets, or modules, which reflect differential genetic and developmental origins. Here, we analyze mosaic evolution in the avian skullusing high-dimensional 3D surface morphometric data across a broad phylogenetic sample encompassing nearly all extant families. We find that the avian cranium is highlymodular, consisting of seven independently evolving anatomical regions. The face and cranial vault evolve faster than other regions, showing several bursts of rapid evolution. Other modules evolve more slowly following an early burst. Both the evolutionary rate and disparity of skull modules are associated with their developmental origin, with regions derived from the anterior mandibular-stream cranial neural crest or from multiple embryonic cell populations evolving most quickly and into a greater variety of forms. Strong integration of traits is also associated with low evolutionary rate and low disparity. Individual clades are characterized by disparate evolutionary rates among cranial regions. For example, Psittaciformes (parrots) exhibit high evolutionary rates throughout the skull, but their close relatives, Falconiformes, exhibit rapid evolution in only the rostrum. Our dense sampling of cranial shape variation demonstrates that the bird skull has evolved in a mosaic fashion reflecting the developmental origins of cranial regions, with a semi-independent tempo and mode of evolution across phenotypic modules facilitating this hyperdiverse evolutionary radiation.