Convergence and Divergence in the Evolution of Cat Skulls: Temporal and Spatial Patterns of Morphological Diversity
by Manabu Sakamoto, Marcello Ruta
Studies of biological shape evolution are greatly enhanced when framed in a phylogenetic perspective. Inclusion of fossils amplifies the scope of macroevolutionary research, offers a deep-time perspective on tempo and mode of radiations, and elucidates life-trait changes. We explore the evolution of skull shape in felids (cats) through morphometric analyses of linear variables, phylogenetic comparative methods, and a new cladistic study of saber-toothed cats.
A new phylogenetic analysis supports the monophyly of saber-toothed cats (Machairodontinae) exclusive of Felinae and some basal felids, but does not support the monophyly of various saber-toothed tribes and genera. We quantified skull shape variation in 34 extant and 18 extinct species using size-adjusted linear variables. These distinguish taxonomic group membership with high accuracy. Patterns of morphospace occupation are consistent with previous analyses, for example, in showing a size gradient along the primary axis of shape variation and a separation between large and small-medium cats. By combining the new phylogeny with a molecular tree of extant Felinae, we built a chronophylomorphospace (a phylogeny superimposed onto a two-dimensional morphospace through time). The evolutionary history of cats was characterized by two major episodes of morphological divergence, one marking the separation between saber-toothed and modern cats, the other marking the split between large and small-medium cats.
Ancestors of large cats in the ‘Panthera’ lineage tend to occupy, at a much later stage, morphospace regions previously occupied by saber-toothed cats. The latter radiated out into new morphospace regions peripheral to those of extant large cats. The separation between large and small-medium cats was marked by considerable morphologically divergent trajectories early in feline evolution. A chronophylomorphospace has wider applications in reconstructing temporal transitions across two-dimensional trait spaces, can be used in ecophenotypical and functional diversity studies, and may reveal novel patterns of morphospace occupation.
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