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Evolutionary versatility of the avian neck

Marek, RD, Falkingham, PL, Benson, RBJ, Gardiner, JD, Maddox, TW and Bates, KT (2021) Evolutionary versatility of the avian neck. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 288 (1946). ISSN 0962-8452

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Bird necks display unparalleled levels of morphological diversity compared to other vertebrates, yet it is unclear what factors have structured this variation. Using three-dimensional geometric morphometrics and multivariate statistics, we show that the avian cervical column is a hierarchical morpho-functional appendage, with varying magnitudes of ecologically driven morphological variation at different scales of organization. Contrary to expectations given the widely varying ecological functions of necks in different species, we find that regional modularity of the avian neck is highly conserved, with an overall structural blueprint that is significantly altered only by the most mechanically demanding ecological functions. Nevertheless, the morphologies of vertebrae within subregions of the neck show more prominent signals of adaptation to ecological pressures. We also find that both neck length allometry and the nature of neck elongation in birds are different from other vertebrates. In contrast with mammals, neck length scales isometrically with head mass and, contrary to previous work, we show that neck elongation in birds is achieved predominantly by increasing vertebral lengths rather than counts. Birds therefore possess a cervical spine that may be unique in its versatility among extant vertebrates, one that, since the origin of flight, has adapted to function as a surrogate forelimb in varied ecological niches

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: 06 Biological Sciences, 07 Agricultural and Veterinary Sciences, 11 Medical and Health Sciences
Subjects: Q Science > QH Natural history > QH301 Biology
Q Science > QL Zoology
Divisions: Biological & Environmental Sciences (from Sep 19)
Publisher: The Royal Society
Date Deposited: 04 Mar 2021 12:54
Last Modified: 04 Sep 2021 05:50
DOI or ID number: 10.1098/rspb.2020.3150
URI: https://researchonline.ljmu.ac.uk/id/eprint/14551
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