The impact of digging on the evolution of the rodent mandible

Andrew McIntosh, Philip Graham Cox

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There are two main (but not mutually exclusive) methods by which subterranean rodents construct burrows: chisel-tooth digging, where large incisors are used to dig through soil; and scratch digging, where forelimbs and claws are used to dig instead of incisors. A previous study by the authors showed that upper incisors of chisel-tooth diggers were better adapted to dig but the overall cranial morphology within the rodent sample was not significantly different. This study analyzed the lower incisors and mandibles of the specimens used in the previous study to show the impact of chisel-tooth digging on the rodent mandible. We compared lower incisors and mandibular shape of chisel-tooth digging rodents with nonchisel-tooth digging rodents to see if there were morphological differences between the two groups. The shape of incisors was quantified using incisor radius of curvature and second moment of area (SMA). Mandibular shape was quantified using landmark based geometric morphometrics. We found that lower incisor shape was strongly influenced by digging group using a Generalized Phylogenetic ancova (analysis of covariance). A phylogenetic Procrustes anova (analysis of variance) showed that mandibular shape of chisel-tooth digging rodents was also significantly different from nonchisel-tooth digging rodents. The phylogenetic signal of incisor radius of curvature was weak, whereas that of incisor SMA and mandibular shape was significant. This is despite the analyses revealing significant differences in the shape of both mandibles and incisors between digging groups. In conclusion, we showed that although the mandible and incisor of rodents are influenced by function, there is also a degree of phylogenetic affinity that shapes the rodent mandibular apparatus.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)176-183
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of morphology
Issue number2
Early online date20 Dec 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2019

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  • geometric morphometrics
  • phylogenetic comparative methods
  • rodent mandibular morphology

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