Phylogenetically structured variance in felid bite force: the role of phylogeny in the evolution of biting performance

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A key question in evolution is the degree to which morphofunctional complexes are constrained by phylogeny. We investigated the role of phylogeny in the evolution of biting performance, quantified as bite forces, using phylogenetic eigenvector regression. Results indicate that there are strong phylogenetic signals in both absolute and size-adjusted bite forces, although it is weaker in the latter. This indicates that elimination of size influences reduces the level of phylogenetic inertia and that the majority of the phylogenetic constraint is a result of size. Tracing the evolution of bite force through phylogeny by character optimization also supports this notion, in that relative bite force is randomly distributed across phylogeny whereas absolute bite force diverges according to clade. The nonphylogenetically structured variance in bite force could not be sufficiently explained by species-unique morphology or by ecology. This study demonstrates the difficulties in identifying causes of nonphylogenetically structured variance in morphofunctional character complexes.

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