Indexed on: 07 May '08Published on: 07 May '08Published in: Integrative and comparative biology
Genetic variation in functionally integrated skeletal traits can be maintained over 10 million years despite bottlenecks and stringent selection. Here, we describe an analysis of the genetic architecture of the canid axial skeleton using populations of the Portuguese Water Dog Canis familiaris) and silver fox (Vulpes vulpes). Twenty-one skeletal metrics taken from radiographs of the forelimbs and hind limbs of the fox and dog were used to construct separate anatomical principal component (PC) matrices of the two species. In both species, 15 of the 21 PCs exhibited significant heritability, ranging from 25% to 70%. The second PC, in both species, represents a trade-off in which limb-bone width is inversely correlated with limb-bone length. PC2 accounts for approximately 15% of the observed skeletal variation, approximately 30% of the variation in shape. Many of the other significant PCs affect very small amounts of variation (e.g., 0.2-2%) along trade-off axes that partition function between the forelimbs and hind limbs. These PCs represent shape axes in which an increase in size of an element of the forelimb is associated with a decrease in size of an element of the hind limb and vice versa. In most cases, these trade-offs are heritable in both species and genetic loci have been identified in the Portuguese Water Dog for many of these. These PCs, present in both the dog and the fox, include ones that affect lengths of the forelimb versus the hind limb, length of the forefoot versus that of the hind foot, muscle moment (i.e., lever) arms of the forelimb versus hind limb, and cortical thickness of the bones of the forelimb versus hind limb. These inverse relationships suggest that genetic regulation of the axial skeleton results, in part, from the action of genes that influence suites of functionally integrated traits. Their presence in both dogs and foxes suggests that the genes controlling the regulation of these PCs of the forelimb versus hind limb may be found in other tetrapod taxa.