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Anat Rec (Hoboken). 2013 Jul;296(7):1049-63. doi: 10.1002/ar.22710. Epub 2013 May 7.

Morphology and biomechanics of the pinniped jaw: mandibular evolution without mastication.

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Center for Functional Anatomy and Evolution, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.


Pinnipeds (seals, sea lions, and walruses) underwent a shift in jaw function away from typical carnivoran mastication to more novel marine behaviors during the terrestrial-aquatic transition. Here we test the effect of aquatic prey capture and male-male combat on the morphological evolution of a mammal jaw that does not masticate. Nine three-dimensional landmarks were taken along the mandible for 25 species (N = 83), and corpus and symphysis external and cortical breadths for a subset of five species (N = 33). Principal components analysis was performed on size-corrected landmark data to assess variation in overall jaw morphology across pinnipeds. Corpus breadths were input to a beam model to calculate strength properties and estimated bite force of specific species with contrasting behaviors (filter feeding, suction feeding, grip-and-tear feeding, and male-male combat). Results indicate that, although phylogenetic signal in jaw shape is strong, function is also important in determining morphology. Filter feeders display an elongate symphysis and a long toothrow that may play a role in filtering krill. Grip-and-tear feeders have a long jaw and large estimated bite force relative to non-biting species. However, the largest estimated bite forces were observed in males of male-male combative species, likely due to the high selection pressure associated with male success in highly polygynous species. The suction feeding jaw is weak in biting but has a different morphology in the two suction feeding taxa. In conclusion, familial patterns of pinniped jaw shape due to phylogenetic relatedness have been modified by adaptations to specialized behavior of individual taxa.

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