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Morphological integration and evolution on Sigmodontinae rodent skulls Wagner, 1843 (Rodentia, Cricetidae)

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Bárbara Maria de Andrade Costa
Total Authors: 1
Document type: Doctoral Thesis
Press: São Paulo.
Institution: Universidade de São Paulo (USP). Instituto de Biociências
Defense date:
Examining board members:
Gabriel Henrique Marroig Zambonato; Reinaldo Otavio Alvarenga Alves de Brito; João Alves de Oliveira; Adriano Pereira Paglia; Alexandre Reis Percequillo
Advisor: Gabriel Henrique Marroig Zambonato

The Sigmodontinae subfamily of rodents represents the clade with the greatest diversity and distribution among mammals in the Neotropical region, with most of the species endemic to South America. With numerous ecomorphological differences, the diversification pattern of these rodents, from a phylogenetic and biogeographic point of view, has been intensely debated. In this thesis, I seek to understand the evolution of the cranial traits of the sigmodontine, using the theoretical framework of quantitative genetics and morphological integration. Thus, I aimed at evaluating the patterns and magnitudes of morphological integration, to understand the association of traits and to explore the potential evolutionary consequences of these associations for the Sigmodontinae skull. Using a collected database containing 2897 individuals of 39 species of the subfamily, I tested the structural similarity of covariance and correlation matrices by comparing them between all measured taxons (represented by 35 cranial measurements). I also evaluated if the evolutionary history of the group had an influence on the patterns of phenotypic covariance structure. Furthermore, I tested the presence of modules in these rodents skulls, employing shared developmental and functional hypothesis proposed for mammalian skulls. Finally, I simulated natural selection in these skulls in order to investigate the evolutionary possibilities in the association of cranial traits in different taxa of the subfamily. In general, the sigmodontine had very similar patterns of traits relationship, while the magnitude of trait association varied greatly among species, and the amplitude of this variation was close to what has already been detected within other Eutheria mammalian orders. In addition, both the patterns as well as the magnitudes obtained were not, to a large extent, associated with the evolutionary history (phylogeny) of these rodents. Thus, I observed that after a period of diversification of approximately 12 million years, this magnitude of integration plasticity coupled with the fact that the magnitude of association is never 1 (granting some degree of flexibility), may provide an explanation for how the wide diversity in cranial morphology appeared in this mammalian group, even with the wide conservation in the integration patterns. Moreover, the sigmodontine share a common pattern of cranial modularity among most species, which are related to the tested functional and developmental hypotheses. The modularity pattern appears to be influenced by variation in size, associated with the first principal component (PC1) of all species, as well as the overall magnitude of skull integration. The greater the variance in the allometric PC1, the greater the association between the skull traits and, thus, the skull is less modular. This relationship is important to understand the potential of the evolutionary response, seeing that, independent of the direction of selective pressure, species with higher general integration magnitude are more evolutionarily constrained, i.e, tend to respond to selection in the direction of the axis with the greatest variation (size). In contrast, species with smaller magnitudes between cranial characters are more flexible to respond in the direction in which selection is acting. Interestingly, the sigmodontine exhibited a potential to evolutionary responses that range from much flexible, both close to mammals (primates and bats ), as well as with those who have the highest levels of restriction (marsupials) (AU)