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Interspecific variation in the tetradactyl manus of modern tapirs (Perissodactyla: Tapirus) exposed using geometric morphometrics

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The distal forelimb (autopodium) of quadrupedal mammals is a key morphological unit involved in locomotion, body support, and interaction with the substrate. The manus of the tapir (Perissodactyla: Tapirus) is unique within modern perissodactyls, as it retains the plesiomorphic tetradactyl (four-toed) condition also exhibited by basal equids and rhinoceroses. Tapirs are known to exhibit anatomical mesaxonic symmetry in the manus, although interspecific differences and biomechanical mesaxony have yet to be rigorously tested. Here, we investigate variation in the manus morphology of four modern tapir species (Tapirus indicus, Tapirus bairdii, Tapirus pinchaque, and Tapirus terrestris) using a geometric morphometric approach. Autopodial bones were laser scanned to capture surface shape and morphology was quantified using 3D-landmark analysis. Landmarks were aligned using Generalised Procrustes Analysis, with discriminant function and partial least square analyses performed on aligned coordinate data to identify features that significantly separate tapir species. Overall, our results support the previously held hypothesis that T. indicus is morphologically separate from neotropical tapirs; however, previous conclusions regarding function from morphological differences are shown to require reassessment. We find evidence indicating that T. bairdii exhibits reduced reliance on the lateral fifth digit compared to other tapirs. Morphometric assessment of the metacarpophalangeal joint and the morphology of the distal facets of the lunate lend evidence toward high loading on the lateral digits of both the large T. indicus (large body mass) and the small, long limbed T. pinchaque (ground impact). Our results support other recent studies on T. pinchaque, suggesting subtle but important adaptations to a compliant but inclined habitat. In conclusion, we demonstrate further evidence that the modern tapir forelimb is a variable locomotor unit with a range of interspecific features tailored to habitual and biomechanical needs of each species.
Tijdschrift: Journal of Morphology
ISSN: 0362-2525
Pagina's: n/a-n/a
Jaar van publicatie:2017
Trefwoorden:discriminant function, locomotion, manus, mesaxonic symmetry, Tapirus bairdii