Adaptation and functional integration in primate phylogenetics.

Research paper by Charles A CA Lockwood

Indexed on: 17 Apr '07Published on: 17 Apr '07Published in: Journal of Human Evolution


In two areas of phylogenetics, contrary predictions have been developed and maintained for character analysis and weighting. With regard to adaptation, many have argued that adaptive characters are poorly suited to phylogenetic analysis because of a propensity for homoplasy, while others have argued that complex adaptive characters should be given high weight because homoplasy in complex characters is unlikely. Similarly, with regard to correlated sets of characters, one point of view is that such sets should be collapsed into a single character-a single piece of phylogenetic evidence. Another point of view is that a suite of correlated characters should be emphasized in phylogenetics, again because recurrence of detailed similarity in the same suite of features is unlikely. In this paper, I discuss the theoretical background of adaptation and functional integration with respect to phylogenetic systematics of primates. Several character examples are reviewed with regard to their functional morphology and phylogenetic signal: postorbital structures, tympanic morphology, fusion of the mandibular symphysis, the tooth comb, strepsirrhine talar morphology, and the prehensile tail. It is clear when considering characters such as these that some characters are synapomorphic of major clades and at the same time functionally important. This appears particularly to be the case when characters are integrated into a complex and maintained as stable configurations. Rather than being simply a problem in character analysis, processes of integration may help to explain the utility of phylogenetically informative characters. On the other hand, the character examples also highlight the difficulty in forming a priori predictions about a character's phylogenetic signal. Explanations of patterns of character evolution are often clade-specific, which does not allow for a simple framework of character selection and/or weighting.