The effects of phylogeny and locomotor behavior on long bone structural proportions are assessed through comparisons between adult and ontogenetic samples of extant gorillas.
Materials and Methods
A total of 281 wild-collected individuals were included in the study, divided into four groups that vary taxonomically and ecologically: western lowland gorillas (G. g. gorilla), lowland and highland grauer gorillas (G. b. graueri), and Virunga mountain gorillas (G. b. beringei). Lengths and articular breadths of the major long bones (except the fibula) were measured, and diaphyseal cross-sectional geometric properties determined using computed tomography. Ages of immature specimens (n = 145) were known or estimated from dental development. Differences between groups in hind limb to forelimb proportions were assessed in both adults and during development.
Diaphyseal strength proportions among adults vary in parallel with behavioral/ecological differences, and not phylogeny. The more arboreal western lowland and lowland grauer gorillas have relatively stronger forelimbs than the more terrestrial Virunga mountain gorillas, while the behaviorally intermediate highland grauer gorillas have intermediate proportions. Diaphyseal strength proportions are similar in young infants but diverge after 2 years of age in western lowland and mountain gorillas, at the same time that changes in locomotor behavior occur. There are no differences between groups in length or articular proportions among either adults or immature individuals.
Long bone diaphyseal strength proportions in gorillas are developmentally plastic, reflecting behavior, while length and articular proportions are much more genetically canalized. These findings have implications for interpreting morphological variation among fossil taxa.