Functionally mediated cranial allometry evidenced in a genus of rock-wallabies

D. Rex Mitchell, Sally Potter, Mark D.B. Eldridge, Meg Martin, Vera Weisbecker

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In assessments of skeletal variation, allometry (disproportionate change of shape with size) is often corrected to examine size-independent variation for hypotheses relating to function. However, size-related trade-offs in functional demands may themselves be an underestimated driver of mammalian cranial diversity. Here, we use geometric morphometrics alongside dental measurements to assess craniodental allometry in the rock-wallaby genus Petrogale (all 17 species, 370 individuals). We identified functional aspects of evolutionary allometry that can be both extensions of, and correlated negatively with, static or ontogenetic allometric patterns. Regarding constraints, larger species tended to have relatively smaller braincases and more posterior orbits, the former of which might represent a constraint on jaw muscle anatomy. However, they also tended to have more anterior dentition and smaller posterior zygomatic arches, both of which support the hypothesis of relaxed bite force demands and accommodation of different selective pressures that favour facial elongation. By contrast, two dwarf species had stouter crania with divergent dental adaptations that together suggest increased relative bite force capacity. This likely allows them to feed on forage that is mechanically similar to that consumed by larger relatives. Our results highlight a need for nuanced considerations of allometric patterns in future research of mammalian cranial diversity.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20240045
Number of pages8
JournalBiology letters
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 27 Mar 2024


  • biomechanics
  • evolution
  • geometric morphometrics
  • Macropodidae
  • skull


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