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Keywords:

  • bite force ;
  • mandible ;
  • morphometrics ;
  • shape

Islands are often considered to be natural laboratories where repeated ‘evolutionary experiments’ have taken place. Consequently, islands have been key model systems in our understanding of evolutionary theory. The greater white-toothed shrew (Crocidura russula) is of interest as it has invaded French Atlantic islands within the last few thousand years and is considered to be morphologically and genetically stable in this area. In this article, we study the shape of the mandible of the greater white-toothed shrew on four islands and compare it with that of individuals from populations on the mainland to quantify the effects of insularity. The degree of insularity (i.e. island size and distance to the continent) is thought to be linked to differences in ecological characteristics of islands compared with the mainland. We used geometric morphometric analyses to quantify differences in size and shape between populations and employed a simple biomechanical model to evaluate the potential effects of shape differences on bite force. Specimens from island populations are different from continental populations in shape and mechanical potential of the mandible. Among islands, the mandible shows various shapes that are correlated with both the distance from the coast and island area. The shape differences are located on different parts of the mandible, suggesting different ecological constraints on each island. Moreover, these shapes are linked to the ‘mechanical potential’, which is markedly different between islands. Mechanical potential has been suggested to evolve in response to prey size and or mechanical properties. In conclusion, our results show that, in spite of the relatively recent colonization of the Atlantic Islands, the mandible of C. russula possesses a distinct shape. Moreover, the shape differs among islands and is probably linked to the consumption of different prey. © 2012 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2012, ••, ••–••.