Phylogeny and foraging behaviour shape modular morphological variation in bat humeri

Camilo López-Aguirre*, Suzanne J. Hand, Daisuke Koyabu, Vuong Tan Tu, Laura A.B. Wilson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Bats show a remarkable ecological diversity that is reflected both in dietary and foraging guilds (FGs). Cranial ecomorphological adaptations linked to diet have been widely studied in bats, using a variety of anatomical, computational and mathematical approaches. However, foraging-related ecomorphological adaptations and the concordance between cranial and postcranial morphological adaptations remain unexamined in bats and limited to the interpretation of traditional aerodynamic properties of the wing (e.g. wing loading [WL] and aspect ratio [AR]). For this reason, the postcranial ecomorphological diversity in bats and its drivers remain understudied. Using 3D virtual modelling and geometric morphometrics (GMM), we explored the phylogenetic, ecological and biological drivers of humeral morphology in bats, evaluating the presence and magnitude of modularity and integration. To explore decoupled patterns of variation across the bone, we analysed whole-bone shape, diaphyseal and epiphyseal shape. We also tested whether traditional aerodynamic wing traits correlate with humeral shape. By studying 37 species from 20 families (covering all FGs and 85% of dietary guilds), we found similar patterns of variation in whole-bone and diaphyseal shape and unique variation patterns in epiphyseal shape. Phylogeny, diet and FG significantly correlated with shape variation at all levels, whereas size only had a significant effect on epiphyseal morphology. We found a significant phylogenetic signal in all levels of humeral shape. Epiphyseal shape significantly correlated with wing AR. Statistical support for a diaphyseal-epiphyseal modular partition of the humerus suggests a functional partition of shape variability. Our study is the first to show within-structure modular morphological variation in the appendicular skeleton of any living tetrapod. Our results suggest that diaphyseal shape correlates more with phylogeny, whereas epiphyseal shape correlates with diet and FG.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1312-1329
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Anatomy
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021


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