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PLoS One. 2011;6(12):e29804. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0029804. Epub 2011 Dec 28.

Functional relationship between skull form and feeding mechanics in Sphenodon, and implications for diapsid skull development.

Author information

1
Medical and Biological Engineering Research Group, Department of Engineering, University of Hull, Hull, United Kingdom. n.curtis@hull.ac.uk

Abstract

The vertebrate skull evolved to protect the brain and sense organs, but with the appearance of jaws and associated forces there was a remarkable structural diversification. This suggests that the evolution of skull form may be linked to these forces, but an important area of debate is whether bone in the skull is minimised with respect to these forces, or whether skulls are mechanically "over-designed" and constrained by phylogeny and development. Mechanical analysis of diapsid reptile skulls could shed light on this longstanding debate. Compared to those of mammals, the skulls of many extant and extinct diapsids comprise an open framework of fenestrae (window-like openings) separated by bony struts (e.g., lizards, tuatara, dinosaurs and crocodiles), a cranial form thought to be strongly linked to feeding forces. We investigated this link by utilising the powerful engineering approach of multibody dynamics analysis to predict the physiological forces acting on the skull of the diapsid reptile Sphenodon. We then ran a series of structural finite element analyses to assess the correlation between bone strain and skull form. With comprehensive loading we found that the distribution of peak von Mises strains was particularly uniform throughout the skull, although specific regions were dominated by tensile strains while others were dominated by compressive strains. Our analyses suggest that the frame-like skulls of diapsid reptiles are probably optimally formed (mechanically ideal: sufficient strength with the minimal amount of bone) with respect to functional forces; they are efficient in terms of having minimal bone volume, minimal weight, and also minimal energy demands in maintenance.

PMID:
22216358
PMCID:
PMC3247290
DOI:
10.1371/journal.pone.0029804
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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