, Volume 132, Issue 4, pp 433-445
Date: 05 Jun 2013

An ontogenetic perspective on the study of sexual dimorphism, phylogenetic variability, and allometry of the skull of European ground squirrel, Spermophilus citellus (Linnaeus, 1766)

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Most studies of morphological variability in or among species are performed on adult specimens. However, it has been proven that knowledge of the patterns of size and shape changes and their covariation during ontogeny is of great value for the understanding of the processes that produce morphological variation. In this study, we investigated the patterns of sexual dimorphism, phylogenetic variability, and ontogenetic allometry in the Spermophilus citellus with geometric morphometrics applied to cross-sectional ontogenetic data of 189 skulls from three populations (originating from Burgenland, Banat, and Dojran) belonging to two phylogenetic lineages (the Northern and Southern). Our results indicate that sexual dimorphism in the ventral cranium of S. citellus is expressed only in skull size and becomes apparent just before or after the first hibernation because of accelerated growth in juvenile males. Sexes had the same pattern of ontogenetic allometry. Populations from Banat and Dojran, belonging to different phylogroups, were the most different in size but had the most similar adult skull shape. Phylogenetic relations among populations, therefore, did not reflect skull morphology, which is probably under a significant influence of ecological factors. Populations had parallel allometric trajectories, indicating that alterations in development probably occur prenatally. The species’ allometric relations during cranial growth showed characteristic nonlinear trajectories in the two northern populations, with accelerated shape changes in juveniles and continued but almost isometric growth in adults. The adult cranial shape was reached before sexual maturity of both sexes and adult size after sexual maturity. The majority of shape changes during growth are probably correlated with the shift from a liquid to a solid diet and to a lesser degree due to allometric scaling, which explained only 20 % of total shape variation. As expected, viscerocranial components grew with positive and neurocranial with negative allometry.

Communicated by A. Schmidt-Rhaesa.