Aspects of locomotor evolution in the Carnivora (Mammalia)

University dissertation from Uppsala : Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis

Abstract: In this thesis, the shape of the distal humerus trochlea is analysed using landmark-based morphometrics and multivariate methods, with the aim of exploring locomotor evolution in carnivorans. Elbow joint morphology is used together with body size and craniodental morphology to characterize past and present carnivorans. Evolutionary implications are studied at the ordinal, familial, and species levels, testing specific hypotheses about scaling, morphological constraints, evolutionary trajectories, and potential for social pack-hunting behaviour. The circumference of the distal humerus trochlea is found to be highly correlated with body mass, and appears to scale similarly throughout the order Carnivora. A general predictive model for carnivoran bodymass is presented (a=0.601; b= 2.552; r2=0.952, SEE=0.136, p<0001, n=92), which removes the need for the investigator to actively choose between the diverging estimates that different predictors and their equations often produce. At the elbow joint, manual manipulation and locomotion appear to be conflicting functions, thus suggesting mutually exclusive lifestyles involving either forelimb grappling or pursuit. At large body sizes, carnivorans are distributed over a strongly dichotomised pattern (grappling or locomotion), a pattern coinciding with the postulated threshold in predator-prey size ratio at 21.5-25 kg. This pattern is compared to that of two carnivoran faunas from the Tertiary. In the Oligocene (33.7-23.8 Myr BP), the overall pattern is remarkably similar to that observed for extant Carnivora. In the Miocene (23.8-11.2 Myr BP) carnivores show a similarly dichotomised pattern as the Oligocene and Recent, although the whole pattern is shifted towards larger body sizes. This difference is suggested to be a reflection of the extraordinary species richness of browsing ungulates in the early Miocene of North America. Such an increase in prey spectrum would create a unique situation, in which large carnivores need not commit to a cursorial habitus in order to fill their nutritional requirements. Finally, the elbow joints and craniodental morphology (14 measurements) of fossil canids were examined with the aim of assessing the potential for pack-hunting in fossil canids. It is clear that small and large members of the Recent Caninae share similar craniodental morphologies. However, this pattern is not present in Borophaginae and Hesperocyoninae. In the latter, large representatives are characterized by being short-faced, with reduced anterior premolars and enlarged posterior premolars, thus approaching a “pantherine-like” craniodental configuration. These traits are interpreted as an adaptation for killing prey with canine bites. It is similarly determined that, unlike recent Caninae, all analyzed species of borophagines and hesperocyonines have retained the ability to supinate their forearms. It is therefore likely that manual manipulation was part of their hunting behaviour, thus removing an essential part of the argument for social pack-hunting in these forms, as the benefits of such a strategy become less obvious.

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