Record Details

MacLaren, Jamie A.;Nauwelaerts, Sandra
A three-dimensional morphometric analysis of upper forelimb morphology in the enigmatic tapir (Perissodactyla: Tapirus) hints at subtle variations in locomotor ecology
Journal of Morphology
Journal Article
Forelimb morphology is an indicator for terrestrial locomotor ecology. The limb morphology of the enigmatic tapir (Perissodactyla: Tapirus) has often been compared to that of basal perissodactyls, despite the lack of quantitative studies comparing forelimb variation in modern tapirs. Here, we present a quantitative assessment of tapir upper forelimb osteology using three-dimensional geometric morphometrics to test whether the four modern tapir species are monomorphic in their forelimb skeleton. The shape of the upper forelimb bones across four species (T. indicus; T. bairdii; T. terrestris; T. pinchaque) was investigated. Bones were laser scanned to capture surface morphology and 3D landmark analysis was used to quantify shape. Discriminant function analyses were performed to reveal features which could be used for interspecific discrimination. Overall our results show that the appendicular skeleton contains notable interspecific differences. We demonstrate that upper forelimb bones can be used to discriminate between species (>91% accuracy), with the scapula proving the most diagnostic bone (100% accuracy). Features that most successfully discriminate between the four species include the placement of the cranial angle of the scapula, depth of the humeral condyle, and the caudal deflection of the olecranon. Previous studies comparing the limbs of T. indicus and T. terrestris are corroborated by our quantitative findings. Moreover, the mountain tapir T. pinchaque consistently exhibited the greatest divergence in morphology from the other three species. Despite previous studies describing tapirs as functionally mediportal in their locomotor style, we find osteological evidence suggesting a spectrum of locomotor adaptations in the tapirs. We conclude that modern tapir forelimbs are neither monomorphic nor are tapirs as conserved in their locomotor habits as previously described.