To 3D or not to 3D, that is the question: Do 3D surface analyses improve the ecomorphological power of the distal femur in placental mammals?

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Improvements in three-dimensional imaging technologies have renewed interest in the study of functional and ecological morphology. Quantitative approaches to shape analysis are used increasingly to study form-function relationships. These methods are computationally intensive, technically demanding, and time-consuming, which may limit sampling potential. There have been few side-by-side comparisons of the effectiveness of such approaches relative to more traditional analyses using linear measurements and ratios. Morphological variation in the distal femur of mammals has been shown to reflect differences in locomotor modes across clades. Thus I tested whether a geometric morphometric analysis of surface shape was superior to a multivariate analysis of ratios for describing ecomorphological patterns in distal femoral variation. A sample of 164 mammalian specimens from 44 genera was assembled. Each genus was assigned to one of six locomotor categories. The same hypotheses were tested using two methods. Six linear measurements of the distal femur were taken with calipers, from which four ratios were calculated. A 3D model was generated with a laser scanner, and analyzed using three dimensional geometric morphometrics. Locomotor category significantly predicted variation in distal femoral morphology in both analyses. Effect size was larger in the geometric morphometric analysis than in the analysis of ratios. Ordination reveals a similar pattern with arboreal and cursorial taxa as extremes on a continuum of morphologies in both analyses. Discriminant functions calculated from the geometric morphometric analysis were more accurate than those calculated from ratios. Both analysis of ratios and geometric morphometric surface analysis reveal similar, biologically meaningful relationships between distal femoral shape and locomotor mode. The functional signal from the morphology is slightly higher in the geometric morphometric analysis. The practical costs of conducting these sorts of analyses should be weighed against potentially slight increases in power when designing protocols for ecomorphological studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere91719
JournalPloS one
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 14 2014
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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