The biomechanics of foraging determines face length among kangaroos and their relatives.
Increasing body size is accompanied by facial elongation across a number of mammalian taxa. This trend forms the basis of a proposed evolutionary rule, cranial evolutionary allometry (CREA). However, facial length has also been widely associated with the varying mechanical resistance of foods. Here, we combine geometric morphometrics and computational biomechanical analyses to determine whether evolutionary allometry or feeding ecology have been dominant influences on facial elongation across 16 species of kangaroos and relatives (Macropodiformes). We found no support for an allometric trend. Nor was craniofacial morphology strictly defined by dietary categories, but rather associated with a combination of the mechanical properties of vegetation types and cropping behaviours used to access them. Among species examined here, shorter muzzles coincided with known diets of tough, resistant plant tissues, accessed via active slicing by the anterior dentition. This morphology consistently resulted in increased mechanical efficiency and decreased bone deformation during incisor biting. Longer muzzles, by contrast, aligned with softer foods or feeding behaviours invoking cervical musculature that circumvent the need for hard biting. These findings point to a potential for craniofacial morphology to predict feeding ecology in macropodiforms, which may be useful for species management planning and for inferring palaeoecology.
Mitchell, DR; Sherratt, E; Ledogar, JA; Wroe, S
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