Large-scale diversification of skull shape in domestic dogs: disparity and modularity

Am Nat. 2010 Mar;175(3):289-301. doi: 10.1086/650372.


Abstract: The variation among domestic dog breeds offers a unique opportunity to study large-scale diversification by microevolutionary mechanisms. We use geometric morphometrics to quantify the diversity of skull shape in 106 breeds of domestic dog, in three wild canid species, and across the order Carnivora. The amount of shape variation among domestic dogs far exceeds that in wild species, and it is comparable to the disparity throughout the Carnivora. The greatest shape distances between dog breeds clearly surpass the maximum divergence between species in the Carnivora. Moreover, domestic dogs occupy a range of novel shapes outside the domain of wild carnivorans. The disparity among companion dogs substantially exceeds that of other classes of breeds, suggesting that relaxed functional demands facilitated diversification. Much of the diversity of dog skull shapes stems from variation between short and elongate skulls and from modularity of the face versus that of the neurocranium. These patterns of integration and modularity apply to variation among individuals and breeds, but they also apply to fluctuating asymmetry, indicating they have a shared developmental basis. These patterns of variation are also found for the wolf and across the Carnivora, suggesting that they existed before the domestication of dogs and are not a result of selective breeding.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Coyotes / anatomy & histology
  • Dogs
  • Jackals / anatomy & histology
  • Skull / anatomy & histology*
  • Skull / physiology
  • Wolves / anatomy & histology