Intracranial and hierarchical perspective on dietary plasticity in mammals

Erin M. Franks, Jeremiah E. Scott, Kevin R. McAbee, Joseph P. Scollan, Meghan M. Eastman, Matthew J. Ravosa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The effect of dietary properties on craniofacial form has been the focus of numerous functional studies, with increasingly more work dedicated to the importance of phenotypic plasticity. As bone is a dynamic tissue, morphological variation related to differential loading is well established for many masticatory structures. However, the adaptive osteogenic response of several cranial sites across multiple levels of bony organization remains to be investigated. Here, rabbits were obtained at weaning and raised for 48 weeks until adulthood in order to address the naturalistic influence of altered loading on the long-term development of masticatory and non-masticatory elements. Longitudinal data from micro-computed tomography (μCT) scans were used to test the hypothesis that variation in cortical bone formation and biomineralization in masticatory structures is linked to increased stresses during oral processing of mechanically challenging foods. It was also hypothesized that similar parameters for neurocranial structures would be minimally affected by varying loads as this area is characterized by low strains during mastication and reduced hard-tissue mechanosensitivity. Hypotheses were supported regarding bone formation for maxillomandibular and neurocranial elements, though biomineralization trends of masticatory structures did not mirror macroscale findings. Varying osteogenic responses in masticatory elements suggest that physiological adaptation, and corresponding variation in skeletal performance, may reside differentially at one level of bony architecture, potentially affecting the accuracy of behavioral and in silico reconstructions. Together, these findings underscore the complexity of bone adaptation and highlight functional and developmental variation in determinants of skull form.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)30-41
Number of pages12
StatePublished - Oct 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Dietary plasticity
  • Food mechanical properties
  • Functional morphology
  • Masticatory loading
  • Skull

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology


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