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aye-aye, convergent evolution, morphology, rodents, mandible, cranium

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Convergence—the independent evolution of similar phenotypes in distantly related clades—is a widespread and much-studied phenomenon. An often-cited, but hitherto untested, case of morphological convergence is that between the aye-aye and squirrels. The aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis) is a highly unusual lemuriform primate that has evolved a dentition similar to that of rodents: it possesses large, ever-growing incisors which it uses to strip the bark from trees in order to feed on wood-boring beetle larvae. Indeed, such is the similarity that some of the earliest classifications of the aye-aye placed it in the squirrel genus Sciurus. Here, we aimed to test the degree of convergence between the skulls and lower jaws of squirrels and the aye-aye. Three-dimensional landmarks were recorded from the crania and mandibles of 46 taxa representing the majority of families in the Euarchontoglires. Results were plotted as phylomorphospaces and convergence measures were calculated. The convergence between squirrels and the aye-aye was shown to be statistically significant for both the cranium and mandible, although the mandibles seem to converge more closely in shape. The convergence may indicate strong functional drivers of morphology in these taxa, i.e. the use of the incisors to produce high bite forces during feeding. Overall, we have shown that this classic case of convergence stands up to quantitative analysis.

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Biology Letters, v. 14, issue 8, art. 20180366

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