Diet-specific responses of skull traits to aridity gradients in bovids and cervids

Niña R.M. Quibod, Uriel Gélin, Frank van Langevelde, Kyle Tomlinson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Feeding efficiency of mammalian herbivores is associated with skull traits known to differ between feeding guilds. As climate is known to affect the architecture and functional traits of plants, skull morphology may change as plant traits change along climate gradients. We tested whether skull traits of more than 70% of the extant bovid and cervid species are related to aridity, and whether these relationships differ across feeding guilds (browser, grazer, mixed feeder). We used muzzle width to represent food ingestion and masseteric fossa length to represent oral processing. For the models without phylogeny, both muzzle width and masseteric fossa length increased towards wetter climates for grazers, but not for mixed feeders or browsers. These patterns suggest that grazer diets may change more dramatically across aridity gradients than the other two groups, possibly linked to changes in both the architecture and toughness of grasses. In models accounting for phylogeny, no changes in either trait across aridity gradient were found, which appeared to be due to subfamily differentiation along the aridity gradient. Our results suggest that deeper insights into the evolution of herbivore skulls may be achieved by using quantified diet data to directly test plant trait effects on skull morphology.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberzlad068
Pages (from-to)861-870
JournalZoological Journal of the Linnean Society
Issue number4
Early online date14 Jul 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2023


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