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Jaw geometry and molar morphology in marsupial carnivores: analysis of a constraint and its macroevolutionary consequences

  • Lars Werdelin (a1)

In both jaw geometry and molar morphology, eutherian carnivores (order Carnivora) as a whole display greater diversity (plasticity in evolution from the primitive type) than marsupial carnivores (order Dasyurida). This is related to the difference in tooth replacement between the two taxa. In Carnivora, the permanent carnassial is preceded by a deciduous carnassial; the permanent tooth can erupt in its (geometrically) permanent position, and the post-carnassial molars are free to evolve for specialized functions or be reduced. In Dasyurida, there is relative molar progression, each erupting molar in turn functioning as a carnassial, and subsequently being pushed forwards in the jaw by the next erupting molar. Thus, all molars have carnassiform morphology, and none are free to develop for other functions. The greater plasticity of Carnivora has led to their adaptive zone being broader (as a group they are relatively more eurytopic than Dasyurida), which in turn has led to greater taxonomic diversity within Carnivora than Dasyurida. The resulting pattern from a macroevolutionary point of view is that, even in the absence of direct competition, Carnivora have had greater evolutionary “success” than Dasyurida.

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