Ontogenetic variation in human nasal morphology

Lauren N. Butaric, Christina L. Nicholas, Katherine Kravchuk, Scott D. Maddux

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Internal nasal cavity morphology has long been thought to reflect respiratory pressures related to heating and humidifying inspired air. Yet, despite the widely recognized importance of ontogeny in understanding climatic and thermoregulatory adaptations, most research on nasal variation in modern and fossil humans focuses on static adult morphology. This study utilizes cross-sectional CT data of three morphologically distinct samples (African, European, Arctic) spanning from infancy to adulthood (total n = 321). Eighteen landmarks capturing external and internal regions of the face and nose were subjected to generalized Procrustes and form-space principal component analyses (separately conducted on global and individual samples) to ascertain when adult-specific nasal morphology emerges during ontogeny. Across the global sample, PC1 (67.18% of the variation) tracks age-related size changes regardless of ancestry, while PC2 (6.86%) differentiates between the ancestral groups irrespective of age. Growth curves tracking morphological changes by age-in-years indicate comparable growth trajectories across all three samples, with the majority of nasal size and shape established early in ontogeny (<5 years of age). Sex-based trends are also evident, with females exhibiting a more truncated growth period than males, particularly for nasal height dimensions. Differences are also evident between the anterior and posterior nose, with the height and breadth dimensions of the anterior nasal aperture and nasal cavity showing differential ontogenetic patterns compared to the choanae. Cumulatively, these results suggest that multiple selective pressures influence human nasal morphology through ontogenetic processes, including metabolic demands for sufficient oxygen intake and climatic demands for adequate intranasal air conditioning.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1910-1937
Number of pages28
JournalAnatomical Record
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2022


  • choana
  • growth and development
  • nasal fossa
  • pediatric otolaryngology
  • respiration


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