A new, three-dimensional geometric morphometric approach to assess egg shape

Marie R.G. Attard*, Emma Sherratt, Paul McDonald, Iain Young, Marta Vidal-García, Stephen Wroe

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


This paper proposes a new methodology to quantify patterns of egg shape variation using geometric morphometrics of three-dimensional landmarks captured on digitally reconstructed eggshells and demonstrates its performance in capturing shape variation at multiple biological levels. This methodology offers unique benefits to complement established linear measurement or two-dimensional (2D) contour profiling techniques by (i) providing a more precise representation of eggshell curvature by accounting for variation across the entire surface of the egg; (ii) avoids the occurrence of correlations from combining multiple egg shape features; (iii) avoids error stemming from projecting a highly-curved three-dimensional (3D) object into 2D space; and (iv) enables integration into 3D workflows such as finite elements analysis. To demonstrate, we quantify patterns of egg shape variation and estimate morphological disparity at multiple biological levels, within and between clutches and among species of four passerine species of different lineages, using volumetric dataset obtained from micro computed tomography. The results indicate that species broadly have differently shaped eggs, but with extensive within-species variation so that all four-focal species occupy a range of shapes. Within-species variation is attributed to between-clutch differences in egg shape; within-clutch variation is surprisingly substantial. Recent comparative analyses that aim to explain shape variation among avian taxa have largely ignored potential biases due to within-species variation, or use methods limited to a narrow range of egg shapes. Through our approach, we suggest that there is appreciable variation in egg shape across clutches and that this variation needs to be accounted for in future research. The approach developed in this study to assess variation in shape is freely accessible and can be applied to any spherical-to-conical shaped object, including eggs of non-avian dinosaurs and reptiles through to other extant taxa such as poultry.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere5052
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Attard et al.


  • Bird egg
  • Clutch
  • Curvature
  • Egg shape
  • Geometric morphometrics
  • Morphospace
  • Passerine
  • Three-dimensional

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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