Ecological divergence and medial cuneiform morphology in gorillas

Matthew W. Tocheri, Christyna R. Solhan, Caley M. Orr, John Femiani, Bruno Frohlich, Colin P. Groves, William E. Harcourt-Smith, Brian G. Richmond, Brett Shoelson, William L. Jungers

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    68 Scopus citations


    Gorillas are more closely related to each other than to any other extant primate and are all terrestrial knuckle-walkers, but taxa differ along a gradient of dietary strategies and the frequency of arboreality in their behavioral repertoire. In this study, we test the hypothesis that medial cuneiform morphology falls on a morphocline in gorillas that tracks function related to hallucial abduction ability and relative frequency of arboreality. This morphocline predicts that western gorillas, being the most arboreal, should display a medial cuneiform anatomy that reflects the greatest hallucial abduction ability, followed by grauer gorillas, and then by mountain gorillas. Using a three-dimensional methodology to measure angles between articular surfaces, relative articular and nonarticular areas, and the curvatures of the hallucial articular surface, the functional predictions are partially confirmed in separating western gorillas from both eastern gorillas. Western gorillas are characterized by a more medially oriented, proportionately larger, and more mediolaterally curved hallucial facet than are eastern gorillas. These characteristics follow the predictions for a more prehensile hallux in western gorillas relative to a more stable, plantigrade hallux in eastern gorillas. The characteristics that distinguish eastern gorilla taxa from one another appear unrelated to hallucial abduction ability or frequency of arboreality. In total, this reexamination of medial cuneiform morphology suggests differentiation between eastern and western gorillas due to a longstanding ecological divergence and more recent and possibly non-adaptive differences between eastern taxa.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)171-184
    Number of pages14
    JournalJournal of human evolution
    Issue number2
    StatePublished - Feb 2011


    • 3D morphometrics
    • CT scanning
    • Functional morphology
    • Hallux
    • Laser scanning
    • Tarsals

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
    • Anthropology


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