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Keywords:

  • allometry;
  • bite force;
  • Felidae;
  • finite element analysis;
  • gape;
  • performance;
  • predation;
  • skull strength

Abstract

Allometric patterns of skull-shape variation can have significant impacts on cranial mechanics and feeding performance, but have received little attention in previous studies. Here, we examine the impacts of allometric skull-shape variation on feeding capabilities in the cat family (Felidae) with linear morphometrics and finite element analysis. Our results reveal that relative bite force diminishes slightly with increasing skull size, and that the skulls of the smallest species undergo the least strain during biting. However, larger felids are able to produce greater gapes for a given angle of jaw opening, and they have overall stronger skulls. The two large felids in this study achieved increased cranial strength by increasing skull bone volume relative to surface area. Allometry of skull geometry in large felids reflects a trade-off between the need to increase gape to access larger prey while maintaining the ability to resist unpredictable loading when taking large, struggling prey.