Alometric variations during growth in seven species of egrets and herons (Aves: Ardeidae)
The order Ciconiiformes include wading bird species of sizes from medium to high, with body growth dynamic that can be analyzed to enlighten micro evolutionary trends. Egrets and herons (family Ardeidae) evolved from a common ancestor, but there are differences in adult body shapes, and their evolution has been suggested to be based on heterochronic processes. However, previous researches on growth have focused only in lineal dimension, and alometric changes have not been studied. In the current paper I described changes in body proportions during growth in seven ardeid species, and analyzed body growth under a phylogenetic point of view, to identify the primitive morphology pattern among genus Butorides and Nycticorax. For this purpose, I calculated bill/tarsus rate in 353 nestlings, measured between 1998 and 2006, and assessed their changes with age and body weight. All species showed marked differences in proportion changes extension between hatching and an analogous growth moment, except Bubulcus that grows almost isometrically. Alometric changes during growth and at hatch, generate a differential growth that produced the different adult morphologies expressed among egrets and herons. The general trends were toward a slight increase in the middle of the growth period up to a lowering to almost the same initial proportions. Growth in the first life stages tends to be more isometric and differences get higher latter in growth. The hypothesis of Nycticorax as peramorphic morfotype is more parsimonious with changes trends in the group, resulting in a relative extremities extension with positive alometry in bill and tarsus in all species. This hypothesis is consistent with a gradual hipermorphosis that reaches a maximum expression in Ardea.