Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 June 2012
* Dedicated to Professor Dr. Vladimír Hanák on the occasion of his 80th birthday
Teeth and dentitions are key evolutionary novelties of vertebrates – much of the success of that clade can be traced to just these structures. The extreme ecological efficiency, rapid rate of adaptive rearrangement and growth dynamics, and large body size, as well as the finely tuned developmental mechanisms characterizing the vertebrates have one commonality: all are closely linked to a very high rate of energetic turnover. The core of the circuit lies in the rate of energetic flux from outside to inside vertebrate bodies. Teeth and dentitions act as its powerful amplifiers, the appearance of which may have played a decisive role in triggering a great deal of the current scope of vertebrate adaptations.
The dentition is not only a physical interface between the exterior and interior of an organism, but also a very complex interface between the energetic demands of the body, characteristics of diet, food availability and foraging. The form of dentition is influenced by selection related to these factors, as well as the phylogenetic history of a taxon and pathways of its past adaptive efforts. Theoretically, the state of dental characters may provide condensed and relevant information on any of these variables.