Stephan Lautenschlager, Florian Witzmann & Ingmar Werneburg (2016)
Palate anatomy and morphofunctional aspects of interpterygoid vacuities in temnospondyl cranial evolution.
The Science of Nature 103: 79
Temnospondyls were the morphologically and taxonomically most diverse group of early tetrapods with a near-global distribution during the Palaeozoic and Mesozoic. Members of this group occupied a range of different habitats (aquatic, amphibious, terrestrial), reflected by large morphological disparity of the cranium throughout their evolutionary history. A diagnostic feature of temnospondyls is the presence of an open palate with large interpterygoid vacuities, in contrast to the closed palate of most other early tetrapods and their fish-like relatives. Although the function of the interpterygoid vacuities has been discussed in the past, no quantitative studies have been performed to assess their biomechanical significance. Here, we applied finite element analysis, to test the possibility that the interpterygoid vacuities served for stress distribution during contraction of the jaw closing musculature. Different original and theoretical skull models, in which the vacuities differed in size or were completely absent, were compared for their mechanical performance. Our results demonstrate that palatal morphology played a considerable role in cranial biomechanics of temnospondyls. The presence of large cranial vacuities were found to offer the dual benefit of providing additional muscle attachment areas and allowing for more effective force transmission and thus an increase in bite force without compromising cranial stability.