Zoological Studies

Vol. 54, 2015

Morphological variability of the cranium of Lontra longicaudis (Carnivora: Mustelidae): a morphometric and geographic analysis

Pablo César Hernández-Romero1*, José Antonio Guerrero2 and Carolina Valdespino1

1Instituto de Ecología A.C., Red de Biología y Conservación de Vertebrados, CP 91070, Carretera antigua a Coatepec 351, Xalapa, Mexico
2Facultad de Ciencias Biológicas, Universidad Autónoma del Estado de Morelos, C. P. 62210 Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico

Background: Studies of morphometric variation make it possible to delimit species and geographic intraspecific variation, mainly in species with wide distribution ranges. In the Neotropical otter, Lontra longicaudis, variation in the shape of the rhinarium of three potential subspecies has been described but it is not known whether there is a pattern to the morphometric variation in the skull throughout the distribution of this species. We analyzed morphological variation in the cranium (ventral view) and the mandible (lateral view) of the Neotropical otter, comparing male and female specimens and evaluating the differences between specified geographic units utilizing methods from geometric morphometrics. Specimens from the entire distribution of the species were analyzed. Between sexes, variability in the shape was determined by calculating the Procrustes distances and using Goodall’s F test. Geographic variation was analyzed using a discriminant analysis, an analysis of variance (ANOVA) on a matrix of partial warp scores, and a cluster analysis with Mahalanobis distances, allowing for similarities in shape to be identified between different geographic units. Variation in the size of the two structures was calculated based on the values for centroid size using a one-way ANOVA with a Bonferroni correction and a 95 % confidence interval.
There was sexual dimorphism in shape for both views, with males the largest. In general, there was geographic variation in the shape and size of both the cranium and the mandible in the Neotropical otter, exhibiting a pattern that resembled Bergmann’s rule. Variation in shape between geographic units could result from the presence of geographic barriers, the spatial configuration of hydrological regions, and/or the large distances between populations throughout this species’ distribution.
Conclusions: The Neotropical otter exhibits dimorphism in the size, but not in the shape of the skull. There is geographic variation between geographic units, and our results suggest that L. longicaudis could be a group of species. An integrative study using molecular and morphological data could elucidate its taxonomy.

Key words: Geographic variation; Geometric morphometrics; Lontra longicaudis; Sexual dimorphism.

*Correspondence: E-mail: pabloecologico@yahoo.com.mx