Leonardo Maiorino, Andrew A. Farke, Tassos Kotsakis, Pasquale Raia & Paolo Piras (2017)
Who is the most stressed? Morphological disparity and mechanical behavior of the feeding apparatus of ceratopsian dinosaurs (Ornithischia, Marginocephalia).
Cretaceous Research (advance online publication)
We investigated differences in shape and stress of ceratopsian lower jaws.
The lower jaw stress was similar between basal and derived taxa.
Major differences among clades occur for stress associated with coronoid process.
The dentary and surangularâangular complex co-evolved to withstand high stress.
Ceratopsians were herbivorous dinosaurs that dominated many of the terrestrial ecosystems in Asia and North America during the Cretaceous. The bizarre variety of skulls and lower jaw morphologies as well as the inferred ecological abundance of many species in this clade indicate that Ceratopsia was a successful group. Here we analyzed 126 lower jaws from 50 ceratopsian species, using two-dimensional geometric morphometrics and finite element analysis to investigate differences in shape and structural performance of this part of the feeding apparatus across Ceratopsia. Morphological differences in lower jaws across ceratopsian clades are said to originate from feeding adaptation.
Our results show that the stress (physical loadings modeled in response to biting) in lower jaws was quite similar between âbasalâ and âderivedâ taxa, whereas major differences among clades occur for stress values associated with the coronoid process. The basal ceratopsians Hualianceratops and Yinlong had a highly stressed and primitive lower jaw, indicating that those animals may have fed on relatively soft foliage and fruits. A similar condition was found for basal neoceratopsians and protoceratopsids. Psittacosaurids possessed a well-integrated and compact lower jaw able to withstand high stress, at the cost of having a highly stressed coronoid process. Leptoceratopsids were characterized by the opposite condition. Taxa such as Leptoceratops, Prenoceratops, Zhuchengceratops and Cerasinops appear to have had a comparatively efficient feeding apparatus. Ceratopsidae represents the clade with the most efficient masticatory apparatus within Ceratopsia, even if the horizontal ramus of the lower jaw appears less able to withstand high levels of stress as compared with other ceratopsians. Additionally, we found the dentary and surangularâangular complex co-evolved to generate a masticatory apparatus able to withstand high stress, particularly in Protoceratopsidae and Triceratopsini. The major phenotypic evolutionary rate and morphological changes occurred during the mid- to Late Cretaceous, when intense climate change and angiosperm diversification could have affected the evolution of ecological diversity and feeding biomechanics in Ceratopsia.