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The making of a monster: postnatal ontogenetic changes in craniomandibular shape in the great sabercat Smilodon

, : The making of a monster: postnatal ontogenetic changes in craniomandibular shape in the great sabercat Smilodon. Plos One 7(1): E29699-E29699

Derived sabercats had craniomandibular morphologies that in many respects were highly different from those of extant felids, and this has often been interpreted functionally as adaptations for predation at extreme gape angles with hypertrophied upper canines. It is unknown how much of this was a result of intraspecific postnatal ontogeny, since juveniles of sabercats are rare and no quantitative study has been made of craniomandibular ontogeny. Postnatal ontogenetic craniomandibular shape changes in two morphologically derived sabercats, Smilodon fatalis and S. populator, were analysed using geometric morphometrics and compared to three species of extant pantherines, the jaguar, tiger, and Sunda clouded leopard. Ontogenetic shape changes in Smilodon usually involved the same areas of the cranium and mandible as in extant pantherines, and large-scale modularization was similar, suggesting that such may have been the case for all felids, since it followed the same trends previously observed in other mammals. However, in other respects Smilodon differed from extant pantherines. Their crania underwent much greater and more localised ontogenetic shape changes than did the mandibles, whereas crania and mandibles of extant pantherines underwent smaller, fewer and less localised shape changes. Ontogenetic shape changes in the two species of Smilodon are largely similar, but differences are also present, notably those which may be tied to the presence of larger upper canines in S. populator. Several of the specialized cranial characters differentiating adult Smilodon from extant felids in a functional context, which are usually regarded as evolutionary adaptations for achieving high gape angles, are ontogenetic, and in several instances ontogeny appears to recapitulate phylogeny to some extent. No such ontogenetic evolutionary adaptive changes were found in the extant pantherines. Evolution in morphologically derived sabercats involved greater cranial ontogenetic changes than among extant felids, resulting in greatly modified adult craniomandibular morphologies.


PMID: 22235326

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0029699

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