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Ecological Drivers of Carnivoran Body Shape Evolution

Morphological diversity is often attributed as adaptations to distinct ecologies. Although biologists have long hypothesized that distinct ecologies drive the evolution of body shape, these relationships are rarely tested across macroevolutionary scales in mammals. Here, I tested hypotheses that locomotor, hunting, and dietary ecologies influenced body shape evolution in carnivorans, a morphologically and ecologically diverse clade of mammals. I found that adaptive models with ecological trait regimes were poor predictors of carnivoran body shape and the underlying morphological components that contribute to body shape variation. Instead, the best-supported model exhibited clade-based evolutionary shifts, indicating that the complexity and variation of body shape landscape cannot be effectively captured by a priori ecological regimes. However, ecological adaptations of body shapes cannot be ruled out, as aquatic and terrestrial carnivorans exhibited opposite allometric patterns of body shape that may be driven by different gravitational constraints associated with these different environments. Similar to body size, body shape is a prominent feature of vertebrate morphology that may transcend one-to-one mapping relationships between morphology and ecological traits, enabling species with distinct body shapes to exploit similar resources and exhibit similar ecologies. Together, these results demonstrate that the multidimensionality of both body shape morphology and ecology makes it difficult to disentangle the complex relationship among morphological evolution, ecological diversity, and phylogeny across macroevolutionary scales.