Finite element modelling of squirrel, guinea pig and rat skulls: using geometric morphometrics to assess sensitivity


Philip G. Cox, Department of Musculoskeletal Biology, University of Liverpool, Sherrington Buildings, Ashton Street, Liverpool L69 3GE, UK. T: + 44 (0)151 794 5454; F: + 44 (0)151 794 5517;


Rodents are defined by a uniquely specialized dentition and a highly complex arrangement of jaw-closing muscles. Finite element analysis (FEA) is an ideal technique to investigate the biomechanical implications of these specializations, but it is essential to understand fully the degree of influence of the different input parameters of the FE model to have confidence in the model’s predictions. This study evaluates the sensitivity of FE models of rodent crania to elastic properties of the materials, loading direction, and the location and orientation of the models’ constraints. Three FE models were constructed of squirrel, guinea pig and rat skulls. Each was loaded to simulate biting on the incisors, and the first and the third molars, with the angle of the incisal bite varied over a range of 45°. The Young’s moduli of the bone and teeth components were varied between limits defined by findings from our own and previously published tests of material properties. Geometric morphometrics (GMM) was used to analyse the resulting skull deformations. Bone stiffness was found to have the strongest influence on the results in all three rodents, followed by bite position, and then bite angle and muscle orientation. Tooth material properties were shown to have little effect on the deformation of the skull. The effect of bite position varied between species, with the mesiodistal position of the biting tooth being most important in squirrels and guinea pigs, whereas bilateral vs. unilateral biting had the greatest influence in rats. A GMM analysis of isolated incisor deformations showed that, for all rodents, bite angle is the most important parameter, followed by elastic properties of the tooth. The results here elucidate which input parameters are most important when defining the FE models, but also provide interesting glimpses of the biomechanical differences between the three skulls, which will be fully explored in future publications.