Shape variation in the talus and medial cuneiform of chimpanzees and bonobos

Publication Name

American Journal of Biological Anthropology


Objectives: Bonobos and chimpanzees do not differ from one another in overall frequencies of arboreality versus terrestriality as much as once thought. Thus, at a broad level, one would predict that there is little difference in foot morphology among Pan taxa. However, behavioral data suggest that bonobos more often use smaller diameter substrates (<10 cm) when climbing whereas western chimpanzees frequently climb larger diameter (>15 cm) substrates. This study tests the hypothesis that if Pan medial cuneiform and talus morphology reflects these substrate preferences, then the morphology of these bones should favor hallucial grasping in bonobos and an inverted foot set in western chimpanzees. Materials and Methods: Three-dimensional geometric morphometric (3DGM) methods were used to explore shape variation in 126 talus and 127 medial cuneiform 3D surface models acquired from 108 chimpanzees (24 western, four Nigeria-Cameroon, 33 central, 32 eastern, and 15 captive unknowns) and 22 bonobos. Results: The shapes of the talus and medial cuneiform in Pan covary as a functional unit emphasizing hallucial grasping with a less inverted foot set in bonobos and a more inverted foot set with a less abducted hallucial set in western chimpanzees. Other chimpanzee subspecies fall between these two extremes. Discussion: Bonobo and western chimpanzee medial cuneiform and talus shapes are consistent with their differing preferences for using smaller and larger diameter substrates, respectively, when vertically climbing. These results suggest that even among closely related taxa, foot, hand, and other postcranial anatomy may be fine-tuned for specific locomotor behaviors or preferences.

Open Access Status

This publication is not available as open access

Funding Number


Funding Sponsor

Wenner-Gren Stiftelserna



Link to publisher version (DOI)