Do functional demands associated with locomotor habitat, diet, and activity pattern drive skull shape evolution in musteloid carnivorans?
A major goal of evolutionary studies is to better understand how complex morphologies are related to the different functions and behaviours in which they are involved. For example, during locomotion and hunting behaviour, the head and the eyes have to stay at an appropriate level in order to reliably judge distance as well as to provide postural information. The morphology and orientation of the orbits and cranial base will have an impact on eye orientation. Consequently, variation in orbital and cranial base morphology is expected to be correlated with aspects of an animal’s lifestyle. In this study, we investigate whether the shape of the skull evolves in response to the functional demands imposed by ecology and behaviour using geometric morphometric methods. We test if locomotor habitats, diet, and activity pattern influence the shape of the skull in musteloid carnivorans using (M)ANOVAs and phylogenetic (M)ANOVAs, and explore the functional correlates of morphological features in relation to locomotor habitats, diet, and activity pattern. Our results show that phylogeny, locomotion and, diet strongly influence the shape of the skull, whereas the activity pattern seems to have a weakest influence. We also show that the locomotor environment is highly integrated with foraging and feeding, which can lead to similar selective pressures and drive the evolution of skull shape in the same direction. Finally, we show similar responses to functional demands in musteloids, a super family of close related
species, as are typically observed across all mammals suggesting the pervasiveness of these functional demands.