Suchian feeding success at the interface of ontogeny and macroevolution

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There have been a number of attempts to explain how crocodylian bite-force performance covaries with cranial form and diet. However, the mechanics and morphologies of crocodylian jaws have thus far remained incongruent with data on their performance and evolution. For example, it is largely assumed that the functional anatomy and performance of adults tightly fits the adult niche. At odds with this precept are groups with resource-dependent growth, whose juvenile stages undergo shifts in mass, morphology, and resource usage to overcome strong selection related to issues of small body size, as compared to adults. Crocodylians are an example of such a group. As living suchians, they also have a long and fossil-rich evolutionary history, characterized by analogous increases in body size, diversifications in rostrodental form, and shifts in diet. Here we use biomechanical and evolutionary modeling techniques to study the development and evolution of the suchian feeding apparatus and to formally assess the impact of potential ontogenetic-evolutionary parallels on clade dynamics. We show that patterns of ontogenetic and evolutionary bite-force changes exhibit inverted patterns of heterochrony, indicating that early ontogenetic trends are established as macroevolutionary patterns within Neosuchia, prior to the origin of Eusuchia. Although selection can act on any life-history stage, our findings suggest that selection on neonates and juveniles, in particular, can contribute to functionally important morphologies that aid individual and clade success without being strongly tied to their adult niche.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)449-458
Number of pages10
JournalIntegrative and Comparative Biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2016

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