Using linkage models to explore skull kinematic diversity and functional convergence in arthrodire placoderms

Philip S L Anderson
Journal of Morphology 2010, 271 (8): 990-1005
Biomechanical models offer a powerful set of tools for quantifying the diversity of function across fossil taxa. A computer-based four-bar linkage model previously developed to describe the potential feeding kinematics of Dunkleosteus terrelli is applied here to several other arthrodire placoderm taxa from different lineages. Arthrodire placoderms are a group of basal gnathostomes showing one of the earliest diversifications of jaw structures. The linkage model allows biomechanical variation to be compared across taxa, identify trends in skull morphology among arthrodires that potentially influence function and explore the role of linkage systems in the early evolution of jaw structures. The linkage model calculates various kinematic metrics including gape angle, effective mechanical advantage, and kinematic transmission coefficients. Results indicate that the arthrodire feeding system may be more diverse and complex than previously thought. A range of potential kinematic profiles among arthrodire taxa illustrate a diversity of feeding function comparable with modern teleost fishes. Previous estimates of bite force in Dunkleosteus are revised based on new morphological data. High levels of kinematic transmission among arthrodires suggest the potential for rapid gape expansion and possible suction feeding. Morphological comparisons indicate that there were several morphological solutions for obtaining these fast kinematics, which allowed different taxa to achieve similar kinematic profiles while varying other aspects of the feeding apparatus. Mapping of key morphological components of the linkage system on a general placoderm phylogeny illustrates the potential importance of four-bar systems to the early evolution of jaw structures.

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