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Decoupled evolution of the cranium and mandible in carnivoran mammals

Cite this dataset

Law, Chris (2022). Decoupled evolution of the cranium and mandible in carnivoran mammals [Dataset]. Dryad.


The relationship between skull morphology and diet is a prime example of adaptive evolution. In mammals, the skull consists of the cranium and the mandible. While the mandible is expected to evolve more directly in response to dietary changes, dietary regimes may have less influence on the cranium because additional sensory and brain-protection functions may impose constraints on its morphological evolution. Here, we tested this hypothesis by comparing the evolutionary patterns of cranium and mandible shape and size across 100+ species of carnivoran mammals with distinct feeding ecologies. Our results show decoupled modes of evolution in cranial and mandibular shape; cranial shape follows clade-based evolutionary shifts whereas mandibular shape evolution is linked to broad dietary regimes. These results are consistent with previous hypotheses regarding hierarchical morphological evolution in carnivorans and greater evolutionary lability of the mandible with respect to diet. Furthermore, in hypercarnivores, the evolution of both cranial and mandibular size is associated with relative prey size. This demonstrates that dietary diversity can be loosely structured by craniomandibular size within some guilds. Our results suggest that mammal skull morphological evolution is shaped by mechanisms beyond dietary adaptation alone.


Nick Simons Foundation, Award: DBI-1906248