A genotype:phenotype approach to testing taxonomic hypotheses in hominids

Abstract

Paleontology has long relied on assumptions about the genetic and developmental influences on skeletal variation. The last few decades of developmental genetics have elucidated the genetic pathways involved in making teeth and patterning the dentition. Quantitative genetic analyses have refined this genotype:phenotype map even more, especially for primates. We now have the ability to define dental traits with a fair degree of fidelity to the underlying genetic architecture; for example, the molar module component (MMC) and the premolar-molar module (PMM) that have been defined through quantitative genetic analyses. We leverage an extensive dataset of extant and extinct hominoid dental variation to explore how these two genetically patterned phenotypes have evolved through time. We assess MMC and PMM to test the hypothesis that these two traits reveal a more biologically informed taxonomy at the genus and species levels than do more traditional measurements. Our results indicate that MMC values for hominids fall into two categories and that Homo is derived compared with earlier taxa. We find a more variable, species-level pattern for PMM. These results, in combination with previous research, demonstrate that MMC reflects the phenotypic output of a more evolutionarily stable, or phylogenetically congruent, genetic mechanism, and PMM is a reflection of a more evolutionarily labile mechanism. These results suggest that the human lineage since the split with chimpanzees may not represent as much genus-level variation as has been inferred from traits whose etiologies are not understood.

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Data availability

All data are included in the supplementary materials (Online Resource 2).

Notes

  1. 1.

    To maintain consistency with the traditional adaptive grade-based definition of the human clade, from here on we refer to all taxa on the human side of the chimpanzee/human divergence as the Hominidae.

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Acknowledgments

We thank David Polly and two anonymous reviewers for their critical feedback on an earlier version of this manuscript. We thank Gen Suwa and Tim D. White for access to dental metric data, and L. Delezene for providing Homo naledi dental metric data. The following museums permitted access to collections: Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology, and the Royal Museum of Central Africa. M. Brasil was supported during this project by the University of California Berkeley Chancellor’s Fellowship and Portuguese Studies Program, and the John Templeton Foundation.

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Brasil, M.F., Monson, T.A., Schmitt, C.A. et al. A genotype:phenotype approach to testing taxonomic hypotheses in hominids. Sci Nat 107, 40 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00114-020-01696-9

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Keywords

  • Adaptive plateau
  • Dentition
  • Early Homo
  • Hominid evolution
  • Modularity