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Constraint and adaptation in the bone-cracking canid Osteoborus (Mammalia: Canidae)

  • Lars Werdelin (a1)

The borophagine canids were bone-cracking scavengers in the Miocene-Pleistocene of North America. In this they parallel the Recent hyenas. This paper analyzes the borophagine adaptation in relation to that of hyaenids, using Osteoborus cyonoides as an example. The emphasis during canid evolution on the posterior molars, which is a derived condition, created a constraint on the adaptation of borophagines. This constraint meant that the borophagines used P4/4 as bone-cracking teeth, whereas hyaenids use P3/3. The latter adaptation has the advantage of separating the bone-cracking teeth from the meat-cutting portion of the dentition, thereby allowing a dual purpose dentition in hyaenids. In borophagines, no such dual purpose was possible, and it is suggested that they were closer to obligate bone-cracking scavengers than Recent hyaenids. Other than the evolution of a specialized bone-cracking tooth, the borophagines adapted to bone cracking by evolving a vaulted and strengthened skull for the dissipation of the strong forces generated during bone cracking. In this they again parallel the hyaenids. Evolution within borophagines involved an elaboration of patterns already set at the group's inception, creating an evolutionary trend which was mediated by the constraint on the bone-cracking morphology. This trend may be due to selection or sorting, or may, under certain assumptions, be stochastic. Other evolutionary trends may also be epiphenomena of constraints that lock morphological evolution.

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