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You are here: Home / Library / RBINS Staff Publications 2021 / Under pressure: the relationship between cranial shape and burrowing force in caecilians (Gymnophiona)

Aurélien Lowie, Barbara De Kegel, Mark Wilkinson, John Measey, James O'Reilly, Nathan Kley, Philippe Gaucher, Jonathan Brecko, Thomas Kleinteich, Luc Van Hoorebeke, Anthony Herrel, and Dominique Adriaens (2021)

Under pressure: the relationship between cranial shape and burrowing force in caecilians (Gymnophiona)

Journal of Experimental Biology, 224(18):jeb242964.

Caecilians are elongate, limbless and annulated amphibians that, with the exception of one aquatic family, all have an at least partly fossorial lifestyle. It has been suggested that caecilian evolution resulted in sturdy and compact skulls with fused bones and tight sutures, as an adaptation to their head-first burrowing habits. However, although their cranial osteology is well described, relationships between form and function remain poorly understood. In the present study, we explored the relationship between cranial shape and in vivo burrowing forces. Using micro-computed tomography (µCT) data, we performed 3D geometric morphometrics to explore whether cranial and mandibular shapes reflected patterns that might be associated with maximal push forces. The results highlight important differences in maximal push forces, with the aquatic Typhlonectes producing a lower force for a given size compared with other species. Despite substantial differences in head morphology across species, no relationship between overall skull shape and push force could be detected. Although a strong phylogenetic signal may partly obscure the results, our conclusions confirm previous studies using biomechanical models and suggest that differences in the degree of fossoriality do not appear to be driving the evolution of head shape.

  • DOI: 10.1242/jeb.242964
  • ISSN: 0022-0949

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