Objectives: Morphological integration, or the tendency for covariation, is commonly seen in complex traits such as the human face. The effects of growth on shape, or allometry, represent a ubiquitous but poorly understood axis of integration. We address the question of to what extent age and measures of size converge on a single pattern of allometry for human facial shape.
Methods: Our study is based on two large cross-sectional cohorts of children, one from Tanzania and the other from the United States (N = 7,173). We employ 3D facial imaging and geometric morphometrics to relate facial shape to age and anthropometric measures.
Results: The two populations differ significantly in facial shape, but the magnitude of this difference is small relative to the variation within each group. Allometric variation for facial shape is similar in both populations, representing a small but significant proportion of total variation in facial shape. Different measures of size are associated with overlapping but statistically distinct aspects of shape variation. Only half of the size-related variation in facial shape can be explained by the first principal component of four size measures and age while the remainder associates distinctly with individual measures.
Conclusions: Allometric variation in the human face is complex and should not be regarded as a singular effect. This finding has important implications for how size is treated in studies of human facial shape and for the developmental basis for allometric variation more generally.
Keywords: 3D facial imaging; allometry; face shape; growth; human; morphometrics.
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