Placement of the diaphragmatic vertebra in catarrhines: Implications for the evolution of dorsostability in hominoids and bipedalism in hominins

Scott A. Williams

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    Abstract

    A fundamental adaptation to orthograde posture and locomotion amongst living hominoid primates is a numerically reduced lumbar column, which acts to stiffen the lower back and reduce injuries to the intervertebral discs. A related and functionally complementary strategy of spinal stability is a caudal position of the diaphragmatic vertebra relative to the primitive condition found in nonhominoid primates and most other mammals. The diaphragmatic vertebra marks the transition in vertebral articular facet (zygapophysis) orientation, which either resists (prediaphragmatic) or allows (postdiaphragmatic) trunk movement in the sagittal plane (i.e., flexion and extension). Unlike most mammals, which have dorsomobile spines (long lumbar columns and cranially placed diaphragmatic vertebrae) for running and leaping, hominoids possess dorsostable spines (short lumbar columns and caudally placed diaphragmatic vertebrae) adapted to orthogrady and antipronogrady. In contrast to humans and other extant hominoids, all known early hominin partial vertebral columns demonstrate cranial displacement of the diaphragmatic vertebra. To address this difference, variation in diaphragmatic placement is assessed in a large sample of catarrhine primates. I show that while hominoids are characterized by modal common placement of diaphragmatic and last rib-bearing vertebrae in general, interspecific differences in intraspecific patterns of variation exist. In particular, humans and chimpanzees show nearly identical patterns of diaphragmatic placement. A scenario of hominin evolution is proposed in which early hominins evolved cranial displacement from the ancestral hominid condition of common placement to achieve effective lumbar lordosis during the evolution of bipedal locomotion.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)111-122
    Number of pages12
    JournalAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
    Volume148
    Issue number1
    DOIs
    StatePublished - May 2012

    Keywords

    • Australopithecus
    • Homo
    • lumbar lordosis
    • upright posture
    • vertebral column

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Anatomy
    • Anthropology

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