Frank J. Varriale (2016)
Dental microwear reveals mammal-like chewing in the neoceratopsian dinosaur Leptoceratops gracilis.
Extensive oral processing of food through dental occlusion and orbital mandibular movement is often cited as a uniquely mammalian trait that contributed to their evolutionary success. Save for mandibular translation, these adaptations are not seen in extant archosaurs or lepidosaurs. In contrast, some ornithischian dinosaurs show evidence of precise dental occlusion, habitual intraoral trituration and complex jaw motion. To date, however, a robust understanding of the diversity of jaw mechanics within non-avian dinosaurs, and its comparison with other vertebrates, remains unrealized. Large dental batteries, well-developed dental wear facets, and robust jaws suggests that neoceratopsian (horned) dinosaurs were capable chewers. But, biomechanical analyses have assumed a relatively simple, scissor-like (orthal) jaw mechanism for these animals. New analyses of dental microwear, presented here, show curvilinear striations on the teeth of Leptoceratops. These features indicate a rostral to caudal orbital motion of the mandible during chewing. A rostrocaudal mandibular orbit is seen in multituberculates, haramiyid allotherians, and some rodents, and its identification in Leptoceratops gracilis is the first evidence of complex, mammal-like chewing in a ceratopsian dinosaur. The term circumpalinal is here proposed to distinguish this new style of chewing from other models of ceratopsian mastication that also involve a palinal component. This previously unrecognized complexity in dinosaurian jaw mechanics indicates that some neoceratopsian dinosaurs achieved a mammalian level of masticatory efficiency through novel adaptive solutions.
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