The primate subarcuate fossa and its relationship to the semicircular canals part II: Adult interspecific variation

Nathan Jeffery, Timothy M. Ryan, Fred Spoor

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23 Scopus citations


Studies have reported an empirical link between the size of the semicircular canals and locomotor agility across adult primates. In this paper, we investigate the possibility that this relationship does not follow from the function of the semicircular canals to sense head rotations, but rather reflects spatial constraints imposed by the subarcuate fossa. The latter sits among the three canals and contains the petrosal lobule of the cerebellar paraflocculus, a structure involved in neural processing of locomotion-related eye movements. Hence, it is feasible that agility-related variations of lobule and fossa size affect the arc size of the surrounding semicircular canals. The present study tests such hypothetical correlations by evaluating canal size, fossa size, and agility among extant adult primates. Phylogenetically informed multivariate regression analyses show that, after controlling for body mass, the size of the subarcuate fossa has a significant positive effect on the overall size of the anterior canal and the width of the posterior canal. Multivariate regressions involving the height of the posterior canal and overall size of the lateral canal are not significant. Further bivariate analyses confirm that fossa size is unlikely to play a role in the previously reported link between agility and the size of the posterior and lateral canals. However, fossa size, especially its opening though the arc of the anterior canal, cannot be excluded as a factor that influences the size of the anterior canal more than agility. The findings show that the most reliable functional signals pertaining to locomotion in species that possess a patent subarcuate fossa are likely to come from the lateral canal and are least likely to come from the anterior canal.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)326-339
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Human Evolution
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Anthropology


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