Primate modularity and evolution: First anatomical network analysis of primate head and neck musculoskeletal system

Feb 1, 2018

Network theory is increasingly being used to study morphological modularity and integration. Anatomical network analysis (AnNA) is a framework for quantitatively characterizing the topological organization of anatomical structures and providing an operational way to compare structural integration and modularity. Here we apply AnNA for the first time to study the macroevolution of the musculoskeletal system of the head and neck in primates and their closest living relatives, paying special attention to the evolution of structures associated with facial and vocal communication. We show that well-defined left and right facial modules are plesiomorphic for primates, while anthropoids consistently have asymmetrical facial modules that include structures of both sides, a change likely related to the ability to display more complex, asymmetrical facial expressions. However, no clear trends in network organization were found regarding the evolution of structures related to speech. Remarkably, the increase in the number of head and neck muscles - and thus of musculoskeletal structures - in human evolution led to a decrease in network density and complexity in humans.