Hominoid intraspecific cranial variation mirrors neutral genetic diversity

Julia M. Zichello, Karen L. Baab, Kieran P. McNulty, Christopher J. Raxworthy, Michael E. Steiper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Natural selection, developmental constraint, and plasticity have all been invoked as explanations for intraspecific cranial variation in humans and apes. However, global patterns of human cranial variation are congruent with patterns of genetic variation, demonstrating that population history has influenced cranial variation in humans. Here we show that this finding is not unique to Homo sapiens but is also broadly evident across extant ape species. Specifically, taxa that exhibit greater intraspecific cranial shape variation also exhibit greater genetic diversity at neutral autosomal loci. Thus, cranial shape variation within hominoid taxa reflects the population history of each species. Our results suggest that neutral evolutionary processes such as mutation, gene flow, and genetic drift have played an important role in generating cranial variation within species. These findings are consistent with previous work on human cranial morphology and improve our understanding of the evolutionary processes that generate intraspecific cranial shape diversity within hominoids. This work has implications for the analysis of selective and developmental pressures on the cranium and for interpreting shape variation in fossil hominin crania.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11501-11506
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number45
StatePublished - Nov 6 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.


  • Cranial shape variation
  • Extant ape variation
  • Hominin fossil record
  • Hominoid evolution
  • Population genetics

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Historical Article


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