The Evolution of Cranial Modularity and Integration in the Caviomorpha Lineage (Mammalia, Rodentia)
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Caviomorph rodents arrived from Africa as sweepstakes colonists to the South American island continent between 54 and 37 Ma, and subsequently underwent a rapid and widespread adaptive radiation beginning in the middle Eocene. The geographic isolation of South America gave rise to a number of endemic mammal species that filled a wide variety of ecological niches. The resulting size of caviomorph rodents spanned over three orders of magnitude, making them an intriguing lineage to explore the morphological and ecological implications of size evolution. Here, I explore the morphological cranial patterns of extinct and extant caviomorph taxa using 2D landmark-based geometric morphometric analysis. Results are key to advancing our understanding of the effects phylogeny and body size have on cranial morphology of caviomorphs (and more broadly, mammals). This study indicates a deviation from the mammalian modular patterns determined a priori, suggesting unique evolutionary processes at play during the caviomorph adaptive radiation.