Abstract Flattened and flexible spiny hairs, the aristiforms, evolved independently in some lineages of rodents, but unlikely capable of causing severe damage to predators. Their biological roles are not yet clearly known and some different thermoregulatory functions have been proposed, often associated with severe climatic conditions but not yet tested. In this study we investigated whether climate may be a major factor shaping geographic variation of length and width of aristiform hairs of 2 species of Neotropical spiny rats of the genus Trinomys (Echimyidae) occurring in eastern Brazil: T. albispinus and T. setosus. Results revealed clinal variation in these hairs. While bioclimatic factors and geographic distance together accounted for up to a third of the morphometric variation, the exclusive impact of climate was limited, explaining only up to 3% of the observed variation. However, considering the close association between climate and geographic distance, the role of climate in shaping aristiform hair cannot be discounted. While our results did not fully support the hypothesis that well-developed, wide spiny hairs are selected for greater protection against rain for underhairs, they marginally supported their role in facilitating heat loss in warm environments by facilitating water condensation. More consistently, results show that narrow spiny hairs tended to evolve in cold environments, likely enhancing thermal insulation. The length of aristiform hair in T. albispinus also appeared to respond to this function, becoming longer in cold and high-altitude regions. However, we cannot rule out the possibility of an evolutionary response correlated with selection on underhairs. Future experimental studies should test the thermoregulatory function of flexible spiny hairs and investigate the geographic variation of these structures in other rodent species.

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