Tooth Morphology in Fossil and Extant Lagomorpha (Mammalia) Reflects Different Mastication Patterns

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The functional interpretation of the cheek teeth and the mastication cycle of Lagomorpha are deduced from various aspects of tooth morphology of fossil and extant species. Mastication is composed of an almost orthal shearing and transverse grinding in a lingual direction. Shearing blades are not only indicated by facets but as well by thickened enamel. A primary shearing blade (PSB) inherited from stem lagomorphs occurs in all examined species. It can be correlated with facets 1 and 5 (sensu Crompton 1971) and occurs in very few mammals; it is conspicuously absent in the sister-taxon Rodentia. A secondary shearing blade (SSB) occurs in derived Ochotonidae and two basal Leporidae (Romerolagus and Pronolagus) as a convergent pattern. In fossil ochotonids from Europe, the “lagicone structure” is gradually reduced in favor of the SSB. Thus, ochotonids strengthen the shearing ability, whereas most leporids favor the grinding function realized by the partial crenulation of the enamel band of the re-entrant folds. For the mastication cycle, the distinct phases were recognized, related to phase I of the tribosphenic model. The first movement (phase Ia) is directed almost orthally, the second (phase Ib) lingually. Only in Lepus europaeus was an additional phase detected, which might correspond to phase II.

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