ISG postdoc Sharlene Santana recently published, as first author, “The Better To Eat You With: Functional Correlates Of Tooth Structure In Bats” in the journal, Functional Ecology.
1. Mammalian dental morphology and function are strongly linked to diet. Within mammals, phyllostomid bats are the most diverse family in terms of dietary ecology and thus represent a unique opportunity in which to investigate relationships between diet, tooth structure, feeding performance and behaviour.
2. Previous studies have focused on how specific aspects of dental morphology relate to diet. Here we use a comprehensive approach to describe 3D dental topography through a measure called dental complexity. Using phyllostomids as a model system, we investigate the functional significance of molar complexity with respect to prey breakdown of insect-eating species. We generated complexity data from 3D laser scans of molars from 17 species. We quantified feeding performance (ability to break down insects) and behaviour (number of chews) by conducting feeding experiments on 11 species using native prey.
3. Frugivores were found to have the highest molar complexity, which is related to biting into and crushing fruit pulp. Lower complexity of insectivore and omnivore molars can be related to the presence of crests specialized for shearing insect exoskeleton. Increases in the complexity of these shearing teeth translated into higher performance in prey breakdown (smaller exoskeleton particles), but chewing behaviour also played an important functional role.
4. Our results highlight the importance of morphology and behaviour in determining feeding performance, which potentially contributes to resource partitioning within this diverse group of mammals.