Background: Understanding the mechanisms promoting or constraining morphological diversification within clades is a central topic in evolutionary biology. Ecological transitions are of particular interest because of their influence upon the selective forces and factors involved in phenotypic evolution. Here we focused on the humerus and mandibles of talpid moles to test whether the transition to the subterranean lifestyle impacted morphological disparity and phenotypic traits covariation between these two structures.
Results: Our results indicate non-subterranean species occupy a significantly larger portion of the talpid moles morphospace. However, there is no difference between subterranean and non-subterranean moles in terms of the strength and direction of phenotypic integration.
Conclusions: Our study shows that the transition to a subterranean lifestyle significantly reduced morphological variability in talpid moles. However, this reduced disparity was not accompanied by changes in the pattern of traits covariation between the humerus and the mandible, suggesting the presence of strong phylogenetic conservatism within this pattern.
Keywords: Disparity; Geometric morphometrics; Humerus; Integration; Mandible; Partial warps; Phylogenetic comparative methods.