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    Baculum shape complexity correlates to metrics of post-copulatory sexual selection in Musteloidea

    Clear, E, Grant, R ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-3968-8370, Gardiner, J ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-1902-3416 and Brassey, C ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-6552-541X (2023) Baculum shape complexity correlates to metrics of post-copulatory sexual selection in Musteloidea. Journal of Morphology, 284 (4). e21572-e21572. ISSN 0362-2525

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    The penis bone, or baculum, is present in many orders of mammals, although its function is still relatively unknown, mainly due to the challenges with studying the baculum in vivo. Suggested functions include increasing vaginal friction, prolonging intromission and inducing ovulation. Since it is difficult to study baculum function directly, functional morphology can give important insights. Shape complexity techniques, in particular, are likely to offer a useful metric of baculum morphology, especially since finding homologous landmarks on such a structure is challenging. This study focuses on measuring baculum shape complexity in the Musteloidea—a large superfamily spanning a range of body sizes with well-developed, qualitatively diverse bacula. We compared two shape complexity metrics—alpha shapes and ariaDNE and conducted analyses over a range of six different coefficients, or bandwidths, in 32 species of Musteloidea. Overall, we found that shape complexity, especially at the baculum distal tip, is associated with intromission duration using both metrics. These complexities can include hooks, bifurcations and other additional projections. In addition, alpha shapes complexity was also associated with relative testes mass. These results suggest that post-copulatory mechanisms of sexual selection are probably driving the evolution of more complex-shaped bacula tips in Musteloidea and are likely to be especially involved in increasing intromission duration during copulation.

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