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Size, shape and structural versatility of the skull of the subterranean rodent Ctenomys (Rodentia, Caviomorpha): functional and morphological analysis

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Morphological analysis of the skull of the subterranean rodent Ctenomys , a highly speciose genus which uses both claws and teeth when digging, shows that for a broad range of species size, scaling was associated with both variation and maintenance of shape. Our results show that the angle of incisor procumbency (AIP), a character largely viewed as an adaptation to digging with teeth, is highly variable. We found a non-significant relationship between AIP and basicranial axis (basioccipital + basisphenoid) length, a measure of overall skull size. Accordingly, both small and large Ctenomys species possess either high or low AIP. A significant relationship between AIP and diastema length, given the rostral allometry seen in Ctenomys , suggests that hypermorphosis to a certain extent influences AIP. However, the roots of the incisor are lateral to those of the cheek teeth and their position may thus shift freely. This observation supports the notion that skull structural design, and to a certain extent rostral allometry, underlies variation in AIP. On the other hand, the positive allometry of incisor width and thickness indicates that, in larger species, proportionately powerful incisors are able to resist greater bending forces. We found that the out-lever arm of the jaw adductor muscles scales with positive allometry against basicranial axis length. However, we found an isometric relationship between in- and out-lever arms. In this case, conservation of skull proportions, regardless of variation in size, is a feature possibly related to the maintenance of an effective tooth digging capability. Functional and ecological data are discussed when assessing the implications of size and shape variation in the skull of Ctenomys . © 2003 The Linnean Society of London. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society , 2003, 78, 85−96.
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Keywords: Rodentia; allometry; functional morphology; jaw; scaling; skull

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Departamento de Biología, Universidad Nacional de Mar del Plata, Casilla de Correo 1245 (7600) Mar del Plata, Argentina

Publication date: 2003-01-01

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