Effective interpretation of historical selective regimes requires comprehensive in vivo performance evaluations and well-constrained ecomorphological proxies. The feeding apparatus is a frequent target of such evolutionary studies due to a direct relationship between feeding and survivorship, and the durability of craniodental elements in the fossil record. Among vertebrates, behaviors such as bite force have been central to evaluation of clade dynamics; yet, in the absence of detailed performance studies, such evaluations can misidentify potential selective factors and their roles. Here, we combine the results of a total-clade performance study with fossil-inclusive, phylogenetically informed methods to assess bite-force proxies throughout mesoeucrocodylian evolution. Although bite-force shifts were previously thought to respond to changing rostrodental selective regimes, we find body-size dependent conservation of performance proxies throughout the history of the clade, indicating stabilizing selection for bite-force potential. Such stasis reveals that mesoeucrocodylians with dietary ecologies as disparate as herbivory and hypercarnivory maintain similar bite-force-to-body-size relationships, a pattern which contrasts the precept that vertebrate bite forces should vary most strongly by diet. Furthermore, it may signal that bite-force conservation supported mesoeucrocodylian craniodental disparity by providing a stable performance foundation for the exploration of novel ecomorphospace.
- stabilizing selection