Data from: A method for mapping morphological convergence on three-dimensional digital models: the case of the mammalian saber-tooth

  • Pasquale Raia (Creator)
  • Marina Melchionna (Creator)
  • Antonio Profico (Creator)
  • Silvia Castiglione (Creator)
  • Carmela Serio (Creator)
  • Alessandro Mondanaro (Creator)
  • Maria Modafferi (Creator)
  • Davide Tamagnini (Creator)
  • Luigi Maiorano (Creator)
  • Stephen Wroe (Creator)
  • Lawrence Witmer (Creator)
  • Gabriele Sansalone (Creator)



Morphological convergence can be assessed through a variety of statistical methods. None of the methods proposed to date enable the visualization of convergence. All are based on the assumption that the phenotypes either converge, or do not. However, between species, morphologically similar regions of a larger structure may behave differently. Previous approaches do not identify these regions within the larger structures or quantify the degree to which they may contribute to overall convergence. Here we introduce a new method to chart patterns of convergence on three-dimensional models, deployed with the R function The convergence between pairs of models is mapped onto them to visualize and quantify the morphological convergence. We applied to a well-known case study, the saber-tooth morphotype which has evolved independently among distinct mammalian clades, from placentals to metatherians. Although previous authors have concluded that saber-tooths kill using a stabbing 'bite' to the neck, others have presented different interpretations for specific taxa, including the iconic Smilodon and Thylacosmilus. Our objective was to identify any shared morphological features among the saber-tooths that may underpin similar killing behaviours. From a sample of 49 placental and metatherian carnivores, we found stronger convergence among saber-tooths than for any other taxa. We found that the morphological convergence is most apparent in the rostral and posterior parts of the cranium. The extent of this convergence implies similarity in function among these phylogenetically distant species. In our view this function is most likely the killing of relatively large prey by a stabbing bite.

External deposit with Dryad.
Date made available10 May 2021

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