Multiple independent appearances of the cecal appendix in mammalian evolution and an investigation of related ecological and anatomical factors

Journal Article

Although the cecal appendix has been widely viewed as a vestige with no known function or a remnant of a formerly utilized digestive organ, the evolutionary history of this anatomical structure is currently unresolved. A database was compiled for 361 mammalian species, and appendix characters were mapped onto a consensus phylogeny along with other gastrointestinal and behavioral characters. No correlation was found between appearance of an appendix and evolutionary changes in diet, fermentation strategy, coprophagia, social group size, activity pattern, cecal shape, or colonic separation mechanism. Appendix presence and size are positively correlated with cecum and colon size, even though this relationship rests largely on the larger size of cecum and colon in taxa that have an appendix. The appendix has evolved minimally 32 times, but was lost fewer than seven times, indicating that it either has a positive fitness value or is closely associated with another character that does. These results, together with immunological and medical evidence, refute some of Darwin's hypotheses and suggest that the appendix is adaptive but has not evolved as a response to any particular dietary or social factor evaluated here. © 2012 Académie des sciences.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Smith, HF; Parker, W; Kotzé, SH; Laurin, M

Published Date

  • 2013

Published In

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1631-0683

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1016/j.crpv.2012.12.001