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Keywords:

  • archosaurs;
  • crocodilians;
  • biomechanics;
  • beam theory;
  • bone stress

Abstract

The mechanical behavior of mammalian mandibles is well-studied, but a comprehensive biomechanical analysis (incorporating detailed muscle architecture, accurate material properties, and three-dimensional mechanical behavior) of an extant archosaur mandible has never been carried out. This makes it unclear how closely models of extant and extinct archosaur mandibles reflect reality and prevents comparisons of structure–function relationships in mammalian and archosaur mandibles. We tested hypotheses regarding the mechanical behavior of the mandible of Alligator mississippiensis by analyzing reaction forces and bending, shear, and torsional stress regimes in six models of varying complexity. Models included free body analysis using basic lever arm mechanics, 2D and 3D beam models, and three high-resolution finite element models of the Alligator mandible, incorporating, respectively, isotropic bone without sutures, anisotropic bone with sutures, and anisotropic bone with sutures and contact between the mandible and the pterygoid flange. Compared with the beam models, the Alligator finite element models exhibited less spatial variability in dorsoventral bending and sagittal shear stress, as well as lower peak values for these stresses, suggesting that Alligator mandibular morphology is in part designed to reduce these stresses during biting. However, the Alligator models exhibited greater variability in the distribution of mediolateral and torsional stresses than the beam models. Incorporating anisotropic bone material properties and sutures into the model reduced dorsoventral and torsional stresses within the mandible, but led to elevated mediolateral stresses. These mediolateral stresses were mitigated by the addition of a pterygoid-mandibular contact, suggesting important contributions from, and trade-offs between, material properties and external constraints in Alligator mandible design. Our results suggest that beam modeling does not accurately represent the mechanical behavior of the Alligator mandible, including important performance metrics such as magnitude and orientation of reaction forces, and mediolateral bending and torsional stress distributions. J.Morphol. 2011. © 2011 Wiley-Liss, Inc.