The evolution of orbit orientation and encephalization in the Carnivora (Mammalia)

J Anat. 2009 May;214(5):671-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7580.2009.01061.x.


Evolutionary change in encephalization within and across mammalian clades is well-studied, yet relatively few comparative analyses attempt to quantify the impact of evolutionary change in relative brain size on cranial morphology. Because of the proximity of the braincase to the orbits, and the inter-relationships among ecology, sensory systems and neuroanatomy, a relationship has been hypothesized between orbit orientation and encephalization for mammals. Here, we tested this hypothesis in 68 fossil and living species of the mammalian order Carnivora, comparing orbit orientation angles (convergence and frontation) to skull length and encephalization. No significant correlations were observed between skull length and orbit orientation when all taxa were analysed. Significant correlations were observed between encephalization and orbit orientation; however, these were restricted to the families Felidae and Canidae. Encephalization is positively correlated with frontation in both families and negatively correlated with convergence in canids. These results indicate that no universal relationship exists between encephalization and orbit orientation for Carnivora. Braincase expansion impacts orbit orientation in specific carnivoran clades, the nature of which is idiosyncratic to the clade itself.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Brain / anatomy & histology*
  • Brain / growth & development
  • Carnivora / anatomy & histology*
  • Carnivora / classification
  • Carnivora / genetics
  • Cephalometry
  • Fossils
  • Orbit / anatomy & histology*
  • Orbit / growth & development
  • Organ Size / genetics
  • Orientation
  • Phylogeny
  • Regression Analysis
  • Skull / anatomy & histology
  • Skull / growth & development