Inferring the use of forelimb suspensory locomotion by extinct primate species via shape exploration of the ulna

Thomas R. Rein, Katerina Harvati, Terry Harrison

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Uncovering links between skeletal morphology and locomotor behavior is an essential component of paleobiology because it allows researchers to infer the locomotor repertoire of extinct species based on preserved fossils. In this study, we explored ulnar shape in anthropoid primates using 3D geometric morphometrics to discover novel aspects of shape variation that correspond to observed differences in the relative amount of forelimb suspensory locomotion performed by species. The ultimate goal of this research was to construct an accurate predictive model that can be applied to infer the significance of these behaviors. We studied ulnar shape variation in extant species using principal component analysis. Species mainly clustered into phylogenetic groups along the first two principal components. Upon closer examination, the results showed that the position of species within each major clade corresponded closely with the proportion of forelimb suspensory locomotion that they have been observed to perform in nature. We used principal component regression to construct a predictive model for the proportion of these behaviors that would be expected to occur in the locomotor repertoire of anthropoid primates. We then applied this regression analysis to Pliopithecus vindobonensis, a stem catarrhine from the Miocene of central Europe, and found strong evidence that this species was adapted to perform a proportion of forelimb suspensory locomotion similar to that observed in the extant woolly monkey, Lagothrix lagothricha.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)70-79
    Number of pages10
    JournalJournal of Human Evolution
    StatePublished - Jan 1 2015


    • Brachiation
    • Geometric morphometrics
    • Pliopithecids
    • Pliopithecus vindobonensis

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
    • Anthropology


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