Morphological convergence in the pubis of slow-moving primates and xenarthrans

Am J Phys Anthropol. 2016 Nov;161(3):381-397. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.23038. Epub 2016 Jul 5.


Objectives: Determining the functional significance of pubic rami is important for reconstructing locomotor behavior of fossil species. The slow loris pelvis, characterized by long pubic rami, is unusual among primates. Long pubic rami may be related to increasing the moment arm of the abdominal musculature during ventroflexion after the termination of hindlimb suspension, which is a common component of slow arboreal quadrupedalism (AQ). Some extant xenarthran species are also slow AQ taxa, and provide an ideal group to test hypotheses of morphologically convergent adaptations to slow AQ.

Materials and methods: A model relating abdominal moment arms to pubic morphology is tested in three genera of slow-moving xenarthrans (Bradypus, Choloepus, and Cyclopes) and two species of slow loris (Nycticebus coucang and Perodicticus potto), using a comparative sample of 37 species of primates and xenarthrans. Phylogenetic analyses of variance and regression were performed on pubic dimensions (superior and inferior pubic ramus length, pubic symphysis length).

Results: As a locomotor group, slow-moving xenarthrans and lorises share superior pubic rami that are longer than all other locomotor groups; at the species level, there is some overlap among slow AQ and non-slow-AQ taxa. Inferior pubic ramus and pubic symphysis lengths also differ according to locomotor category, but multiple comparisons among locomotor groups are non-significant.

Discussion: These results support the hypothesis that superior pubic ramus length is functionally related to slow, suspensory locomotion by increasing the leverage of the ventral abdominal musculature, and demonstrates morphological convergence among two phylogenetically distant groups of mammals that have evolved adaptations for slow, suspensory locomotion.

Keywords: functional morphology; locomotion; pelvis; sloth; slow loris.

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Anthropology, Physical
  • Cingulata / anatomy & histology*
  • Cingulata / physiology*
  • Female
  • Fossils
  • Locomotion / physiology*
  • Lorisidae / anatomy & histology*
  • Lorisidae / physiology*
  • Male
  • Phylogeny
  • Pubic Bone / anatomy & histology*
  • Pubic Bone / physiology