Ecomorphological correlates of craniodental variation in bears and paleobiological implications for extinct taxa: an approach based on geometric morphometrics


  • Editor: Dr Andrew Kitchener

Borja Figueirido, Departamento de Ecología y Geología, Facultad de Ciencias, Campus Universitario de Teatinos, 29071 Málaga, Spain.


Relative warp analyses of landmarks describing cranial and mandibular shape are used for investigating patterns of morphological variation among extant bears (Mammalia, Carnivora, Ursidae) indicative of diet and feeding behavior. These patterns are used for deriving inferences about the autecology of two extinct species previously assumed to have had different dietary preferences, the North American giant, short-faced bear Arctodus simus and the Eurasian cave bear Ursus spelaeus. Results reveal a set of shared craniodental traits among the herbivorous bears, including short and vaulted skulls with well-developed zygomatic arches, lateralized orbits and small canines, concave jaws with a highly positioned condyle, large moment arms for the temporalis and masseter muscles, and long cheek teeth. In contrast, those bears that consume animal resources have long skulls with small zygomatic arches, frontalized orbits and well-developed canines, and long jaws with a deep mandibular symphysis, low muscle leverages, a condyle situated at the level of the tooth row and reduced cheek teeth. The craniodental morphology of omnivorous bears is intermediate between those of faunivores and herbivores. This is also the case of the short-faced bear and the cave bear, which suggests that previous reconstructions of the feeding ecology of these extinct species (highly carnivorous for A. simus and herbivorous for U. spelaeus) should be revised.