Dispelling dog dogma: an investigation of heterochrony in dogs using 3D geometric morphometric analysis of skull shape

Evol Dev. Mar-Apr 2011;13(2):204-13. doi: 10.1111/j.1525-142X.2011.00470.x.


Heterochrony is an evolutionary mechanism that generates diversity via perturbations of the rate or timing of development that requires very little genetic innovation. As such, heterochrony is thought to be a common evolutionary mechanism in the generation of diversity. Previous research has suggested that dogs evolved via heterochrony and are paedomorphic wolves. This study uses three-dimensional landmark-based coordinate data to investigate heterochronic patterns within the skull morphology of the domestic dog. A total of 677 adult dogs representing 106 different breeds were measured and compared with an ontogenetic series of 401 wolves. Geometric morphometric analysis reveals that the cranial shape of none of the modern breeds of dogs resembles the cranial shapes of adult or juvenile wolves. In addition, investigations of regional heterochrony in the face and neurocranium also reject the hypothesis of heterochrony. Throughout wolf cranial development the position of the face and the neurocranium remain in the same plane. Dogs, however, have a de novo cranial flexion in which the palate is tilted dorsally in brachycephalic and mesaticephalic breeds or tilted ventrally in dolichocephalic and down-face breeds. Dogs have evolved very rapidly into an incredibly morphologically diverse species with very little genetic variation. However, the genetic alterations to dog cranial development that have produced this vast range of phylogenetically novel skull shapes do not coincide with the expectations of the heterochronic model. Dogs are not paedomorphic wolves.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Canidae / anatomy & histology
  • Canidae / classification
  • Canidae / growth & development
  • Dogs / anatomy & histology*
  • Dogs / classification
  • Dogs / genetics*
  • Dogs / growth & development
  • Female
  • Male
  • Pedigree
  • Skull / anatomy & histology*
  • Skull / growth & development
  • Wolves / anatomy & histology
  • Wolves / genetics