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Review
, 9 (1), 703-722
eCollection

The Morphology and Evolutionary History of the Glenohumeral Joint of Hominoids: A Review

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Review

The Morphology and Evolutionary History of the Glenohumeral Joint of Hominoids: A Review

Julia Arias-Martorell. Ecol Evol.

Abstract

The glenohumeral joint, the most mobile joint in the body of hominoids, is involved in the locomotion of all extant primates apart from humans. Over the last few decades, our knowledge of how variation in its morphological characteristics relates to different locomotor behaviors within extant primates has greatly improved, including features of the proximal humerus and the glenoid cavity of the scapula, as well as the muscles that function to move the joint (the rotator cuff muscles). The glenohumeral joint is a region with a strong morphofunctional signal, and hence, its study can shed light on the locomotor behaviors of crucial ancestral nodes in the evolutionary history of hominoids (e.g., the last common ancestor between humans and chimpanzees). Hominoids, in particular, are distinct in showing round and relatively big proximal humeri with lowered tubercles and flattened and oval glenoid cavities, morphology suited to engage in a wide range of motions, which enables the use of locomotor behaviors such as suspension. The comparison with extant taxa has enabled more informed functional interpretations of morphology in extinct primates, including hominoids, from the Early Miocene through to the emergence of hominins. Here, I review our current understanding of glenohumeral joint functional morphology and its evolution throughout the Miocene and Pleistocene, as well as highlighting the areas where a deeper study of this joint is still needed.

Keywords: Miocene apes; evolutionary morphology; glenohumeral morphology; hominins; hominoids; locomotion.

Figures

Figure 1
Figure 1
The rotator cuff muscles (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, subscapularis) shown on a dissected human shoulder (top of the image). Osteology of the glenohumeral joint (bottom left). Soft tissue surrounding the glenoid cavity of the scapula, including the glenoid labrum and the remains of the capsule and the ligaments (superior, middle and inferior; bottom right). Pictures courtesy of JM Potau and A. Meri
Figure 2
Figure 2
3D renderings of proximal humeri and glenoid cavities of a Papio (baboon), a Colobus (colobus monkey) and a Pongo (orangutan), showing the three main morphologies of the glenohumeral joint related to locomotion: terrestrial quadrupedal, with protruding humeral tubercles and a pear‐shaped glenoid cavity; arboreal quadrupedal, with a rounder humeral head and less protruding tubercles than the terrestrial quadrupeds; and suspensors, with a well‐rounded, globular humeral head and oval glenoid cavity
Figure 3
Figure 3
Comparative proximal humeral morphologies of all the groups mentioned, from the terrestrial quadrupedal Papio (baboon), the brachiator Hylobates (gibbon), to the terrestrial knuckle‐walkers Pan and Gorilla (chimpanzee and gorilla)
Figure 4
Figure 4
Distinct morphologies of the rotator cuff muscles attachments to the lesser and greater tubercles with respect to the locomotion used by the primates. Note the specific distribution of the greater tubercle insertions of the knuckle‐walking primates (Gorilla and Pan; Modified after Arias‐Martorell et al., 2015a)
Figure 5
Figure 5
Comparison between fossil and extant primates proximal humeral morphologies, including the Middle Miocene pliopithecus Epipliopithecus vindobonensis, and the hominins A.L. 288‐1r (A. afarensis) and ARA‐VP‐7/2‐A (Ardipithecus ramidus). Note the striking similarity between Ardipithecus and Pongo (Image of Ardipithecus modified after Lovejoy et al., 2009a)

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