Morphometric variations at an ecological scale: Seasonal and local variations in feral and commensal house mice
The time scales of evolutionary and ecological studies tend to converge, as shown by evidences that contemporary evolution can occur as fast as ecological processes. This opens new questions regarding variation of characters usually considered to change mostly along an evolutionary time scale, such as morphometric traits, including osteological and dental features such as mandibles and teeth of mammals. Using two-dimensional geometric morphometric approach, we questioned whether such features can change on a seasonal and local basis, in relation to the ecological dynamics of the populations. Our model comprised populations of house mice (Mus musculus domesticus) in two contrasted situations in mainland Western Europe: a feral population vs. two close commensal populations. Mitochondrial DNA (D-loop) provided insight into the diversity and dynamics of the populations.
The feral population appeared as genetically highly diversified, suggesting a possible functioning as a sink in relation to the surrounding commensal populations. In contrast, commensal populations were highly homogeneous from a genetic point of view, suggesting each population to be isolated. This triggered morphological differentiation between neighboring farms. Seasonal differences in morphometric traits (mandible size and shape and molar size and shape) were significant in both settings, although seasonal variations were greater in the feral than in the commensal population. Seasonal variations in molar size and shape could be attributed to differential wear in young or overwintered populations. Differences in mandible shape could be related to aging in overwintered animals, but also possibly to differing growth conditions depending on the season. The impact of these ecological processes on morphometric traits is moderate compared to divergence over a large biogeographic scale, but their significance nevertheless underlines that even morphological characters may trace populations dynamics at small scale in time and space.
KeywordsMus musculus domesticus Murinae Rodent Geometric morphometrics Mandible Molar shape Phylogeny D-loop
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