The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

Visualizing artiodactyl ecomorphology with geometric morphometrics


Department of Anthropology, University of California, Santa Barbara

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Ecomorphological methods are becoming increasingly common for reconstructing paleoenvironmental parameters of hominin sites. These methods, which examine the fit between the form and function of a given species and its environment, rely strongly on functional morphology. An individual’s morphology places limits on the types of behaviors it can perform and the environments in which those behaviors can take place.This study examines artiodactyl (Cervidae, Bovidae, and Tragulidae) functional morphology as it relates to locomotion in different habitats, with the goal of applying these data to the reconstruction of fossil hominin sites.

Three-dimensional outlines of rearlimb joint surfaces were analyzed using geometric morphometrics, principal components analysis, and canonical variates analysis. Visualizations of morphologies associated with different habitat types allowed for the synthesis of a series of functional hypotheses for the rearlimb as a whole, wherein the morphology of open-adapted artiodactyls enhances speed and joint stability whereas saltatorial artiodactyls emphasize joint mobility. Results demonstrate that extant artiodactyls can be reclassified into their known habitat types with up to 66.3% (cross-validation) and 74.7% (resubstitution) accuracy, and thus are a useful proxy for paleohabitat. Applying these methods to three sites in Europe, it was found that early Pleistocene cervids were adapted to mostly open habitats. This reconstruction demonstrates that conditions in France and Romania were broadly similar to those for other penecontemporaneous Eurasian and Africa sites in which Homo erectus has been found, supporting the hypothesis that habitat type did not preclude hominins from occupying Europe during the early Pleistocene.

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