, Volume 26, Issue 4, pp 825-845
Date: 18 Nov 2011

Relationships between head morphology, bite performance and ecology in two species of Podarcis wall lizards

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Understanding the relationship between form and function is central to our comprehension of how phenotypic diversity evolves. Traits involved in multiple activities, such as social interactions and ecological resource use, are under the influence of different evolutionary forces potentially acting in opposite directions. Such systems provide the opportunity of understanding how potential constraints on morphological variation may influence whole-organism performance. In this study we examined morphology and bite performance in two closely related species of Podarcis wall lizards with divergent microhabitat preferences, to investigate how natural and sexual selection interact to shape the evolution of head traits. Our results show that although head morphology is markedly different between species and sexes, only sexes differ in bite force, indicating that the ecological differentiation between species is reflected in their morphology but does not constrain performance. Rather, the modification of the relative size of head components between species and a shift in the form-function relationship provide a potential explanation of how equal performance is attained by different morphological configurations. Geometric morphometrics provide a clear, biomechanically meaningful image of how this is achieved and show a bisexual pattern of head shape-bite force association in both species. This, together with a strong allometry of head size on body size and head shape on head size, provides indirect morphological evidence for the importance of sexual selection in shaping morphological and functional patterns. Finally, our findings suggest that the differences observed between species and sexes in head traits and bite performance are not reflected in their dietary ecology, implying that if trophic niche segregation between groups occurs, the reasons behind it are not primarily related to head morphology and functional variation.