Roles for modularity and constraint in the evolution of cranial diversity among anolis lizards

Thomas J. Sanger, D. Luke Mahler, Arhat Abzhanov, Jonathan B. Losos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

100 Scopus citations


Complex organismal structures are organized into modules, suites of traits that develop, function, and vary in a coordinated fashion. By limiting or directing covariation among component traits, modules are expected to represent evolutionary building blocks and to play an important role in morphological diversification. But how stable are patterns of modularity over macroevolutionary timescales? Comparative analyses are needed to address the macroevolutionary effect of modularity, but to date few have been conducted. We describe patterns of skull diversity and modularity in Caribbean Anolis lizards. We first diagnose the primary axes of variation in skull shape and then examine whether diversification of skull shape is concentrated to changes within modules or whether changes arose across the structure as a whole. We find no support for the hypothesis that cranial modules are conserved as species diversify in overall skull shape. Instead we find that anole skull shape and modularity patterns independently converge. In anoles, skull modularity is evolutionarily labile and may reflect the functional demands of unique skull shapes. Our results suggest that constraints have played little role in limiting or directing the diversification of head shape in Anolis lizards.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1525-1542
Number of pages18
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2012


  • Craniofacial
  • Evo-devo
  • Macroevolution
  • Morphology
  • Skull


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