Evolutionary Biology

, Volume 39, Issue 4, pp 499–520

Postnatal Cranial Development in Papionin Primates: An Alternative Model for Hominin Evolutionary Development

Research Article

DOI: 10.1007/s11692-011-9153-4

Cite this article as:
Singleton, M. Evol Biol (2012) 39: 499. doi:10.1007/s11692-011-9153-4


The evolution of hominin growth and life history has long been a subject of intensive research, but it is only recently that paleoanthropologists have considered the ontogenetic basis of human morphological evolution. To date, most human EvoDevo studies have focused on developmental patterns in extant African apes and humans. However, the Old World monkey tribe Papionini, a diverse clade whose members resemble hominins in their ecology and population structure, has been proposed as an alternative model for human craniofacial evolution. This paper reviews prior studies of papionin development and socioecology and presents new analyses of juvenile shape variation and ontogeny to address fundamental questions concerning primate cranial development, including: (1) When are cranial shape differences between species established? (2) How do epigenetic influences modulate early-arising pattern differences? (3) How much do postnatal developmental trajectories vary? (4) What is the impact of developmental variation on adult cranial shape? and, (5) What role do environmental factors play in establishing adult cranial form? Results of this inquiry suggest that species differences in cranial morphology arise during prenatal or earliest postnatal development. This is true even for late-arising features that develop under the influence of epigenetic factors such as mechanical loading. Papionins largely retain a shared, ancestral pattern of ontogenetic shape change, but large size and sexual dimorphism are associated with divergent developmental trajectories, suggesting differences in cranial integration. Developmental simulation studies indicate that postnatal ontogenetic variation has a limited influence on adult cranial morphology, leaving early morphogenesis as the primary determinant of cranial shape. The ability of social factors to influence craniofacial development in Mandrillus suggests a possible role for phentotypic plasticity in the diversification of primate cranial form. The implications of these findings for taxonomic attribution of juvenile fossils, the developmental basis of early hominin characters, and hominin cranial diversity are discussed.


Rungwecebus Mandrillus Paranthropus Human EvoDevo Phenotypic plasticity Developmental simulation 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnatomyMidwestern UniversityDowners GroveUSA

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