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Keywords:

  • trabeculae;
  • elasmobranch;
  • biomechanics;
  • Euler buckling;
  • CT scan

Abstract

The design of minimum-weight structures that retain their integrity under dynamic loading regimes has long challenged engineers. One solution to this problem found in both human and biological design is the optimization of weight and strength by hollowing a structure and replacing its inner core with supportive struts. In animals, this design is observed in sand dollar test, avian beak, and the cancellous bone of tetrapod limbs. Additionally, within the elasmobranch fishes, mineralized trabeculae (struts) have been reported in the jaws of durophagous myliobatid stingrays (Elasmobranchii: Batoidea), but were believed to be absent in basal members of the batoid clade. This study, however, presents an additional case of batoid trabeculation in the lesser electric ray, Narcine brasiliensis (Torpediniformes). The trabeculae in these species likely play different functional roles. Stingrays use their reinforced jaws to crush bivalves, yet N. brasiliensis feeds by ballistically protruding its jaws into the sediment to capture polychaetes. In N. brasiliensis, trabeculae are localized to areas likely to experience the highest load: the quadratomandibular jaw joints, hyomandibular-cranial joint, and the thinnest sections of the jaws immediately lateral to the symphyses. However, the supports perform different functions dependent on location. In regions where the jaws are loaded transversely (as in durophagous rays), “load leading” trabeculae distribute compressive forces from the cortex through the lumen of the jaws. In the parasymphyseal regions of the jaws, “truss” trabeculae form cross-braces perpendicular to the long axes of the jaws. At peak protrusion, the jaw arch is medially compressed and the jaw loaded axially such that these trabeculae are positioned to resist buckling associated with excavation forces. “Truss” trabeculae function to maintain the second moment of area in the thinnest regions of the jaws, illustrating a novel function for batoid trabeculation. Thus, this method of structural support appears to have arisen twice independently in batoids and performs strikingly different ecological functions associated with the distribution of extreme loading environments. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.