Limb morphology of domestic and wild canids: the influence of development on morphologic change

J Morphol. 1986 Mar;187(3):301-19. doi: 10.1002/jmor.1051870304.


Biomechanical hypotheses are often invoked to explain the characteristic scaling of limb proportions. Patterns of static allometry and morphologic diversity, however, may also reflect the developmental mechanisms underlying morphologic change. In this study I document the importance of such developmental influences on the evolution of limb morphology in the extremely polymorphic domestic dog and in wild canid species. I use bivariate and discriminant function analyses to compare the limb morphology of adult dogs and wild canid species. I then compare ontogenetic allometry of four dog breeds with static allometry of domestic and wild canids. Results reveal, first, that there is considerable similarity between dogs and wild canid species; many wolf-like canids cannot be distinguished from domestic dogs of equivalent size. However, all dogs are consistently separated from fox-sized, wild canids by subtle but evolutionarily significant differences in olecranon, metapodial, and scapula morphology. Second, in domestic dogs the pattern of static allometry is nearly identical to that of ontogenetic allometry. This finding can be attributed to simple heterochronic alterations of postnatal growth rates. Apparently the diversity of limb proportions among adult domestic dogs and the observed difference between dogs and wild canids are somewhat predetermined, as they directly reflect the diversity of limb proportions evident during development of the domestic dog.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Wild
  • Bone Development*
  • Bone and Bones / anatomy & histology*
  • Carnivora / anatomy & histology*
  • Dogs / anatomy & histology*
  • Extremities / anatomy & histology*
  • Extremities / diagnostic imaging
  • Extremities / growth & development
  • Foxes
  • Radiography
  • Software