Thursday, November 17, 2011
Form and Function in the Metriorhychid Skull
Mark T. Young, Mark A. Bell and Stephen L. Brusatte. 2011. "Craniofacial form and function in Metriorhynchidae (Crocodylomorpha: Thalattosuchia): modelling phenotypic evolution with maximum-likelihood method." Biology Letters 7(6): 913-916
Metriorhynchid crocodylomorphs were the only group of archosaurs to fully adapt to a pelagic lifestyle. During the Jurassic and Early Cretaceous, this group diversified into a variety of ecological and morphological types, from large super-predators with a broad short snout and serrated teeth to specialized piscivores/teuthophages with an elongate tubular snout and uncarinated teeth. Here, we use an integrated repertoire of geometric morphometric (form), biomechanical finite-element analysis (FEA; function) and phylogenetic data to examine the nature of craniofacial evolution in this clade. FEA stress values significantly correlate with morphometric values representing skull length and breadth, indicating that form and function are associated. Maximum-likelihood methods, which assess which of several models of evolution best explain the distribution of form and function data on a phylogenetic tree, show that the two major metriorhynchid subclades underwent different evolutionary modes. In geosaurines, both form and function are best explained as evolving under ‘random’ Brownian motion, whereas in metriorhynchines, the form metrics are best explained as evolving under stasis and the function metric as undergoing a directional change (towards most efficient low-stress piscivory). This suggests that the two subclades were under different selection pressures, and that metriorhynchines with similar skull shape were driven to become functionally divergent.