Jaw biomechanics and the evolution of biting performance in theropod dinosaurs

Manabu Sakamoto


Despite the great diversity in theropod craniomandibular morphology, the presence and distribution of biting function types across Theropoda has rarely been assessed. A novel method of biomechanical profiling using mechanical advantage computed for each biting position along the entirety of the tooth row was applied to 41 extinct theropod taxa. Multivariate ordination on the polynomial coefficients of the profiles reveals the distribution of theropod biting performance in function space. In particular, coelophysoids are found to occupy a unique region of function space, while tetanurans have a wide but continuous function space distribution. Further, the underlying phylogenetic structure and evolution of biting performance were investigated using phylogenetic comparative methods. There is a strong phylogenetic signal in theropod biomechanical profiles, indicating that evolution of biting performance does not depart from Brownian motion evolution. Reconstructions of ancestral function space occupation conform to this pattern, but phylogenetically unexpected major shifts in function space occupation can be observed at the origins of some clades. However, uncertainties surround ancestor estimates in some of these internal nodes, so inferences on the nature of these evolutionary changes must be viewed with caution.

  • Received April 14, 2010.
  • Accepted May 14, 2010.
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