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Evolution of the sabertooth mandible: A deadly ecomorphological specialization

Piras, Paolo, Silvestro, Daniele, Carotenuto, Francesco, Castiglione, Silvia, Kotsakis, Anastassios, Maiorino, Leonardo, Melchionna, Marina, Mondanaro, Alessandro, Sansalone, Gabriele, Serio, Carmela, Vero, Veronica Anna, Raia, Pasquale
Palaeogeography, palaeoclimatology, palaeoecology 2018 v.496 pp. 166-174
carnivores, extinction, fossils, mandible (bone), phenotype, physical properties, space and time, trees
Saber-toothed cats were armed with formidable weapons. They evolved a number of highly derived morphological features, most notably a pair of extremely long upper canines, which makes them unique within the felid family. Although the sabertooth character evolved several times among carnivorous mammals, sabertooth clades mostly had disjunctive occurrences both in space and time, and no sabertooth is alive today. We studied the rates of phenotypic and taxonomic diversification in the mandible of sabertooths, as compared to the rates calculated for both extinct and extant conical toothed cats. We found that the mandible's shape and physical properties in sabertooth clades evolved at distinctly higher rates than the rest of the felid tree. In addition, sabertooths had similar speciation rate to conical toothed cats, but statistically higher extinction rate. The wealth of morphological specializations required to be a sabertooth, and their tendency to focus on large-sized species as prey, was likely responsible for such high extinction rate, and for the peculiar, disjunctive patterns of sabertooth clade occurrence in the fossil record.