Three-Dimensional Geometric Morphometric Analysis of Talar Morphology in Extant Gorilla Taxa from Highland and Lowland Habitats

Ryan P. Knigge, Matthew W. Tocheri, Caley M. Orr, Kieran P. Mcnulty

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34 Scopus citations


Western gorillas (Gorilla gorilla) are known to climb significantly more often than eastern gorillas (Gorilla beringei), a behavioral distinction attributable to major differences in their respective habitats (i.e., highland vs. lowland). Genetic evidence suggests that the lineages leading to these taxa began diverging from one another between approximately 1 and 3 million years ago. Thus, gorillas offer a special opportunity to examine the degree to which morphology of recently diverged taxa may be "fine-tuned" to differing ecological requirements. Using three-dimensional (3D) geometric morphometrics, we compared talar morphology in a sample of 87 specimens including western (lowland), mountain (highland), and grauer gorillas (lowland and highland populations). Talar shape was captured with a series of landmarks and semilandmarks superimposed by generalized Procrustes analysis. A between-group principal components analysis of overall talar shape separates gorillas by ecological habitat and by taxon. An analysis of only the trochlea and lateral malleolar facet identifies subtle variations in trochlear shape between western lowland and lowland grauer gorillas, potentially indicative of convergent evolution of arboreal adaptations in the talus. Lastly, talar shape scales differently with centroid size for highland and lowland gorillas, suggesting that ankle morphology may track body-size mediated variation in arboreal behaviors differently depending on ecological setting. Several of the observed shape differences are linked biomechanically to the facilitation of climbing in lowland gorillas and to stability and load-bearing on terrestrial substrates in the highland taxa, providing an important comparative model for studying morphological variation in groups known only from fossils (e.g., early hominins). Anat Rec, 298:277-290, 2015.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)277-290
Number of pages14
JournalAnatomical Record
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.


  • Arboreality
  • Foot
  • Talus
  • Tarsals
  • Terrestriality


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