The respiratory turbinates of mammals are complex bony plates within the nasal chamber that are covered with moist epithelium and provide an extensive surface area for the exchange of heat and water. Given their functional importance, maxilloturbinate size and structure are expected to vary predictably among species adapted to different environments. Here the first quantitative analysis is provided of maxilloturbinate structure based on high-resolution computed tomography (CT) scans of the skulls of eight canid and seven felid species. The key parameters examined were the density of the maxilloturbinate bones within the nasal chamber and how that density varied along the air pathway. In both canids and felids, total maxilloturbinate chamber volume and bone volume increased with body size, with canids having c. 1.5–2.0 times the volume of maxilloturbinate than felids of similar size. In all species, the volume of the maxilloturbinates varies from rostral to caudal, with the peak volume occurring approximately midway, close to where airway cross-sectional area is greatest. Interspecific differences among canids or felids in maxilloturbinate density were not consistent with adaptive explanations, i.e. the densest maxilloturbinates were not associated with species living in arid or cold habitats. Some of the observed variation in maxilloturbinate form might reflect a need for both low- and high-resistance pathways for airflow under alternative conditions.
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