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Department of Anthropology

Academic Staff

Publication details for Professor Sarah Elton

Elton, Sarah, Jansson, Anna-Ulla, Meloro, Carlo, Louys, Julien, Plummer, Thomas & Bishop, Laura C. (2016). Exploring morphological generality in the Old World monkey postcranium using an ecomorphological framework. Journal of Anatomy 228(4): 534-560.

Author(s) from Durham


Nearly all primates are ecologically dependent on trees, but they are nonetheless found in an enormous range of habitats, from highly xeric environments to dense rainforest. Most primates have a relatively ‘generalised’ skeleton, enabling locomotor flexibility and facilitating other crucial functions, such as manual foraging and grooming. This paper explores the associations between habitat, locomotion and morphology in the forelimbs of cercopithecids (Old World monkeys), contextualising their skeletal ecomorphological patterns with those of other mammals, and complementing functional morphological analyses with phylogenetic comparative techniques. The ecomorphological signals present in the generalised primate postcranium, and how an ancestral arboreal ‘bauplan’ might be modified to incorporate terrestriality or exploit distinct arboreal substrates, are investigated. Analysis of ecomorphological variation in guenons indicates that terrestrial Chlorocebus species retain core elements of a general guenon form, with modifications for terrestriality that vary by species. Adaptation to different modes of arboreality has also occurred in Cercopithecus. The considerable morphological similarity in the guenons sampled emphasises the importance of generality in the primate postcranium – much forelimb variation appears to have emerged stochastically, with a smaller number of traits having a strong functional signal. Analysis of a broader sample of cercopithecids and comparison with felids, suids and bovids indicates that although the cercopithecid humerus has functional morphological signals that enable specimens to be assigned with a reasonable degree of certainty to habitat groups, there is considerable overlap in the specimens assigned to each habitat group. This probably reflects ecological dependence on trees, even in predominantly terrestrial species, as well as the multiple functions of the forelimb and, in some cases, wide geographic distributions that promote intraspecific variation. The use of phylogenetic correction reduced the discriminatory power of the models, indicating that, like allometry, phylogeny contains important ecomorphological information, and should not necessarily be factored out of analyses.