Phenotypic integration and modularity represent important factors influencing evolutionary change. The mammalian cervical vertebral column is particularly interesting in regards to integration and modularity because it is highly constrained to seven elements, despite widely variable morphology. Previous research has found a common pattern of integration among quadrupedal mammals, but integration patterns also evolve in response to locomotor selective pressures like those associated with hominin bipedalism. Here, I test patterns of covariation in the cervical vertebrae of three hominoid primates (Hylobates, Pan, Homo) who engage in upright postures and locomotion. Patterns of integration in the hominoid cervical vertebrae correspond generally to those previously found in other mammals, suggesting that integration in this region is highly conserved, even among taxa that engage in novel positional behaviors. These integration patterns reflect underlying developmental as well as functional modules. The strong integration between vertebrae suggests that the functional morphology of the cervical vertebral column should be considered as a whole, rather than in individual vertebrae. Taxa that display highly derived morphologies in the cervical vertebrae are likely exploiting these integration patterns, rather than reorganizing them. Future work on vertebrates without cervical vertebral number constraints will further clarify the evolution of integration in this region.
Villamil, Catalina I., "Phenotypic Integration of the Cervical Vertebrae in the Hominoidea (Primates)" (2018). Dickinson College Faculty Publications. Paper 887.