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J Morphol. 2006 Sep;267(9):1075-86.

Antler stiffness in moose (Alces alces): correlated evolution of bone function and material properties?

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Department of Biological Sciences, Clemson University, Clemson, SC 29634, USA.


The material properties of bone can vary considerably among skeletal elements from different parts of the body that serve different functions. However, functional demands placed on a specific type of skeletal element also can vary at a variety of scales, such as between different parts of the element, among individuals of a species, and across species. Variation in bone material properties might be correlated with differing functional demands at any of these scales. In this study we performed three-point bending tests on bone specimens extracted from antlers of moose (Alces alces) to test for three types of variation in bone material stiffness (Young's modulus): within the antler structure, between populations of moose, and between moose and other deer species. Because superficial portions of the antler are exposed to greater bending stress and strain than deeper portions, and because the antler beam (the basal shaft that attaches to the skull) is subjected to greater bending moments than more distal parts of the antler, we predicted that superficial bone and bone from the beam would be stiffer than bone from other parts of the antler. Instead, we identified no significant differences in these comparisons. There were also no significant differences in antler stiffness between moose from Michigan and the Yukon, even though the rapid growth required of antlers from northern latitudes like the Yukon has the potential to compromise bone material properties. However, moose have significantly stiffer antlers (11.6 +/- 0.45 GPa, mean +/- SE) than any other deer in the odocoileine lineage. Moreover, phylogenetic reconstructions of the evolution of antler stiffness in deer indicate a strong potential that high antler stiffness is a derived feature of moose. The unusual palmate shape of moose antlers likely subjects their antler beams to higher bending moments than found in other odocoileines, a factor that may have contributed to the evolutionary divergence of moose antler stiffness from that of other members of this clade. Although similarities in the mineral composition of bone across species likely limit the overall range of phylogenetic variation in bone material properties, our results demonstrate that evolutionary diversity in bone material properties can show correspondence with phylogenetic differences in mechanical or ecological demands on skeletal elements.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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