Phenotypic plasticity determines differences between the skulls of tigers from mainland Asia
Cooper DM., Yamaguchi N., Macdonald DW., Nanova OG., Yudin VG., Dugmore AJ., Kitchener AC.
Tiger subspecific taxonomy is controversial because of morphological and genetic variation found between now fragmented populations, yet the extent to which phenotypic plasticity or genetic variation affects phenotypes of putative tiger subspecies has not been explicitly addressed. In order to assess the role of phenotypic plasticity in determining skull variation, we compared skull morphology among continental tigers from zoos and the wild. In turn, we examine continental tiger skulls from across their wild range, to evaluate how the different environmental conditions experienced by individuals in the wild can influence morphological variation. Fifty-seven measurements from 172 specimens were used to analyse size and shape differences among wild and captive continental tiger skulls. Captive specimens have broader skulls, and shorter rostral depths and mandible heights than wild specimens. In addition, sagittal crest size is larger in wild Amur tigers compared with those from captivity, and it is larger in wild Amur tigers compared with other wild continental tigers. The degree of phenotypic plasticity shown by the sagittal crest, skull width and rostral height suggests that the distinctive shape of Amur tiger skulls compared with that of other continental tigers is mostly a phenotypically plastic response to differences in their environments.