The giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) cervical vertebral column: a heuristic example in understanding evolutionary processes?

The current study considers the osteological morphology of the giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) vertebral column, with emphasis on evaluating both the adaptive and constraining features compared with other ungulates as a heuristic example in understanding evolutionary processes. Vertebral columns of giraffes varying in age from calf to adult were studied in order to understand the potential evolutionary scenarios that might have led to the modern phenotype. Data from the giraffe sample were then compared with the results from several other ungulate species, including the okapi and two species of camelids that also have visibly elongated necks. Our results show that the elongated neck of the modern giraffe appears to specifically result from evolutionary changes affecting the seven cervical vertebrae, independent of the remainder of the vertebral column. The cervical vertebrae comprise over half of the length of the total vertebral column in the giraffe. The increases in cervical vertebrae lengths also appear to be allometrically constrained, with alterations in the overall length of the neck resulting from the elongation of the entire cervical series, rather than from a single vertebra or subset of vertebrae. We place our results in the context of hypotheses concerning the origin and evolution of the giraffe neck, and the evolution of long necks in a broader sense.

Last Updated
January 31, 2021
Size
1.04 MB