Morphological and functional evolution of the tetrapod jaw: a 3D perspective

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Genetics Evolution and Environment

Abstract

Jaw morphology is extremely diverse across tetrapods, reflecting the varied approaches to the predominant function: feeding. Feeding mechanisms vary widely from, for instance, suctionfeeding in early tetrapods, to rapid snapping in some turtles, to continuous ingestion in anteaters. Jaw adaptations have allowed tetrapods to specialise in feeding ecology, through loss of jaw elements, reduction in muscle mass, alterations to the jaw joint, and changes in muscle structure. Current research typically focuses on morphology and function between closely related organisms (such as crocodilians), rather than presenting broad-scale patterns across classes or clades. This research will provide the first macroevolutionary analysis of tetrapod jaw morphology and function, using a new high-resolution 3D dataset spanning fossil and extant tetrapod species. Using a phylogenetic framework alongside a vast morphological dataset, I will quantify patterns and rates of morphological and functional jaw variation within and between classes and through major transitions. This project will also identify factors driving jaw evolution through deep time by investigating function through biomechanical modelling. These investigations will allow the exploration of specific points of tetrapod jaw morphological and functional diversity within the broader macroevolutionary framework, providing a holistic understanding of tetrapod jaw evolution.

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