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The evolution of the bone-cracking model in carnivorans: cranial functional morphology of the Plio-Pleistocene cursorial hyaenid Chasmaporthetes lunensis (Mammalia: Carnivora)

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 April 2016

Zhijie Jack Tseng
Integrative and Evolutionary Biology Program, Department of Biological Sciences, 3616 Trousdale Parkway, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California 90089 Department of Vertebrate Paleontology, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, 900 Exposition Boulevard, Los Angeles, California 90007. E-mail:
Mauricio Antón
Departamento de Paleobiología, Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales-CSIC, C/José Gutiérrez Abascal, 2, 28006 Madrid, Spain
Manuel J. Salesa
Departamento de Paleobiología, Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales-CSIC, C/José Gutiérrez Abascal, 2, 28006 Madrid, Spain


Fossil species of the family Hyaenidae represent a wide range of ecomorphological diversity not observed in living representatives of this carnivoran group. Among them, the cursorial meat-and-bone specialists are of particular interest not only because they were the most cursorial of the hyaenids, but also because they were the only members of this family to spread into the New World. Here we conduct a functional morphological analysis of the cranium of the cursorial meat-and-bone specialist Chasmaporthetes lunensis by using finite element modeling to compare it with the living Crocuta crocuta, a well-known bone-cracking carnivoran. As found with previous finite element studies on hyaenid crania, the cranium of C. lunensis is not differentially adapted for stress dissipation between the bone-cracking and meat-shearing teeth. A smaller occlusal surface on the more slender P3 cusp of C. lunensis allowed this species to use less bite force to crack a comparably-sized bone relative to C. crocuta, but higher muscle masses in the latter probably allow it to process larger food items. We use two indices, the stress slope and the bone-cracking index, to show that C. lunensis has a well-adapted cranium for stress dissipation given its size, but the main stresses placed on its cranium might have been more from subduing prey and less from cracking bones. Throughout the Cenozoic, other carnivores besides hyaenids convergently evolved similar morphologies, including domed frontal regions, suggesting an adaptive value for a repetitive mosaic of features. Our analyses add support to the hypothesis that bone-cracking adaptations are a complex model that has evolved convergently several times across different carnivoran families, and these predictable morphologies may evolve along a common gradient of functionality that is likely to be under strong adaptive control.

Paleobiology , Volume 37 , Issue 1 , Winter 2011 , pp. 140 - 156
Copyright © The Paleontological Society 

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