Waisum Ma, ÂStephen L. Brusatte, ÂJunchang LÃ Â& Manabu Sakamoto (2019)
The skull evolution of oviraptorosaurian dinosaurs: the role of nicheâpartitioning in diversification.
Journal of Evolutionary Biology (advance online publication)
Oviraptorosaurs are birdâlike theropod dinosaurs that thrived in the final preâextinction ecosystems during the latest Cretaceous, and the beaked, toothless skulls of derived species are regarded as some of the most peculiar among dinosaurs. Their aberrant morphologies are hypothesized to have been caused by rapid evolution triggered by an ecological/biological driver, but little is known about how their skull shapes and functional abilities diversified. Here, we use quantitative techniques to study oviraptorosaur skull form and mandibular function. We demonstrate that the snout is particularly variable, that mandibular and upper/lower beak form are significantly correlated with phylogeny, and that there is a strong and significant correlation between mandibular function and mandible/lower beak shape, suggesting a formâfunction association. The formâfunction relationship and phylogenetic signals, along with a moderate allometric signal in lower beak form, indicate that similar mechanisms governed beak shape in oviraptorosaurs and extant birds. The two derived oviraptorosaur clades, oviraptorids and caenagnathids, are significantly separated in morphospace and functional space, indicating that they partitioned niches. Oviraptorids coexisting in the same ecosystem are also widely spread in morphological and functional space, suggesting that they finely partitioned feeding niches, whereas caenagnathids exhibit extreme disparity in beak size. The diversity of skull form and function was likely key to the diversification and evolutionary success of oviraptorosaurs in the latest Cretaceous.