Dietary Hardness, Loading Behavior, and the Evolution of Skull Form in Bats


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Publication Date

January 2012


The morphology and biomechanics of the vertebrate skull reflect the physical properties of diet and behaviors used in food acquisition and processing. We use phyllostomid bats, the most diverse mammalian dietary radiation, to investigate if and how changes in dietary hardness and loading behaviors during feeding shaped the evolution of skull morphology and biomechanics. When selective regimes of food hardness are modeled, we found that species consuming harder foods have evolved skull shapes that allow for more efficient bite force production. These species have shorter skulls and a greater reliance on the temporalis muscle, both of which contribute to a higher mechanical advantage at an intermediate gape angle. The evolution of cranial morphology and biomechanics also appears to be related to loading behaviors. Evolutionary changes in skull shape and the relative role of the temporalis and masseter in generating bite force are correlated with changes in the use of torsional and bending loading behaviors. Functional equivalence appears to have evolved independently among three lineages of species that feed on liquids and are not obviously morphologically similar. These trends in cranial morphology and biomechanics provide insights into behavioral and ecological factors shaping the skull of a trophically diverse clade of mammals.

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Evolution, Vol. 66, no. 8 (2012).