The Potential of Surface-based Geometric Morphometrics for Evolutionary Studies: An Example using Dwarf Snakes (Eirenis)

  • Geometric morphometrics plays an important role in evolutionary studies. The state-of-the-art in this field are landmark-based methods. Since the landmarks usually need to be placed manually, only a limited number of landmarks are generally used to represent the shape of an anatomical structure. As a result, shape characteristics that cannot be properly represented by small sets of landmarks are disregarded. In this study, we present a method that is free of this limitation. The method takes into account the whole shape of an anatomical structure, which is represented as a surface, hence the term ‘surface-based morphometrics’. Correspondence between two surfaces is established by defining a partitioning of the surfaces into homologous surface patches. The first step for the generation of a surface partitioning is to place landmarks on the surface. Subsequently, the landmarks are connected by curves lying on the surface. The curves, called ‘surface paths’, might either follow specific anatomical features or they can be geodesics, that is, shortest paths on the surface. One important requirement, however, is that the resulting surface path networks are topologically equivalent across all surfaces. Once the surface path networks have been defined, the surfaces are decomposed into patches according to the path networks. This approach has several advantages. One of them is that we can discretize the surface by as many points as desired. Thus, even fine shape details can be resolved if this is of interest for the study. Since a point discretization is used, another advantage is that well-established analysis methods for landmark-based morphometrics can be utilized. Finally, the shapes can be easily morphed into one another, thereby greatly supporting the understanding of shape changes across all considered specimens. To show the potential of the described method for evolutionary studies of biological specimens, we applied the method to the para-basisphenoid complex of the snake genus Eirenis. By using this anatomical structure as example, we present all the steps that are necessary for surface-based morphometrics, including the segmentation of the para-basisphenoid complex from micro-CT data sets. We also show some first results using statistical analysis as well as classification methods based on the presented technique.

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Author:Daniel Baum, Kristin Mahlow, Hans Lamecker, Stefan Zachow, Johannes Müller, Hans-Christian Hege
Document Type:In Proceedings
Parent Title (English):Abstract in DigitalSpecimen 2014
Year of first publication:2014