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The evolution of growth patterns in mammalian versus nonmammalian cynodonts

  • Rachel N. O’Meara (a1) and Robert J. Asher (a1)

One of the major evolutionary transitions of the mammaliaform lineage was the origin of a typically mammalian pattern of growth. This is characterized by rapid juvenile growth followed by abrupt cessation of growth at adult size and may be linked with other important mammaliaform apomorphies of dental replacement and morphology. Investigation of growth patterns in the tritylodontid cynodont Oligokyphus and the basal mammaliaform Morganucodon provides insight into this crucial transition. We collected mandibular depth measurements from large samples of Morganucodon and Oligokyphus and constructed distributions of mandibular depth versus frequency for each species. These were compared with distributions from species from three different growth classes of extant amniote: testudines + crocodilians, mammals + birds, and lepidosaurs. Discriminant function analysis was used to differentiate between known growth classes by using different combinations of three measures of mandibular depth distribution shape (skew, kurtosis, and coefficient of variation) as proxies for different juvenile and adult growth patterns. Classification of the fossil species showed that Morganucodon closely resembled extant placental mammals in having rapid juvenile growth followed by truncated, determinate adult growth. Oligokyphus showed intermediate growth patterns, with more extended adult growth patterns than Morganucodon and slightly slower juvenile growth. This suggests a gradual evolution of mammalian growth patterns across the cynodont to mammaliaform transition, possibly with the origin of rapid juvenile growth preceding that of truncated, determinate adult growth. In turn, acquisition of both these aspects of mammalian growth was likely necessary for the evolution of diphyodont tooth replacement in the mammaliaform lineage.

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