The vertebral column plays a key role in maintaining posture, locomotion, and transmitting loads between body components. Cervical vertebrae act as a bridge between the torso and head and play a crucial role in the maintenance of head position and the visual field. Despite its importance in positional behaviors, the functional morphology of the cervical region remains poorly understood, particularly in comparison to the thoracic and lumbar sections of the spinal column. This study tests whether morphological variation in the primate cervical vertebrae correlates with differences in postural behavior. Phylogenetic generalized least-squares analyses were performed on a taxonomically broad sample of 26 extant primate taxa to test the link between vertebral morphology and posture. Kinematic data on primate head and neck postures were used instead of behavioral categories in an effort to provide a more direct analysis of our functional hypothesis. Results provide evidence for a function-form link between cervical vertebral shape and postural behaviors. Specifically, taxa with more pronograde heads and necks and less kyphotic orbits exhibit cervical vertebrae with longer spinous processes, indicating increased mechanical advantage for deep nuchal musculature, and craniocaudally longer vertebral bodies and more coronally oriented zygapophyseal articular facets, suggesting an emphasis on curve formation and maintenance within the cervical lordosis, coupled with a greater resistance to translation and ventral displacement. These results not only document support for functional relationships in cervical vertebrae features across a wide range of primate taxa, but highlight the utility of quantitative behavioral data in functional investigations. Am J Phys Anthropol 156:531-542, 2015.
ASJC Scopus subject areas