Blackwell Publishing Journal Backfiles 1879-2005
The three living species of Trichechus are clearly defined and well exemplify the degree of variability and taxonomic value of morphological characters in a well-understood mammalian genus. Statistical analysis of the largest sample of manatee skulls yet studied has allowed us to identify small suites of characters that effectively distinguish these species. The two subspecies of T. manatus proposed by Hatt (1934) can likewise be distinguished, and their use as taxonomic categories seems justified. This suggests that the cool winters of the northern Gulf Coast, on the one hand, and the deep water and strong currents of the Straits of Florida, on the other, are effective barriers to gene flow between Florida and Antillean manatees. Alleged taxonomic distinctions within T. senegalensis, however, have no demonstrated basis. No significant sexual dimorphism was detected in skulls of any of the species. Many interspecific differences can be correlated with feeding ecology, but others remain unexplained. Features of tooth crown morphology are among the most constant characters examined, but some osteological characters are equally good. T. manatas and T. senegalensis (which are phenetically the most similar) also seem to share a more recent common ancestor than either does with T. inunguis. However, the three species probably separated from each other at nearly the same time. T. inunguis has since become the most derived species, while T. senegalensis has changed the least.
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