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Paleontologists and paleoanthropologists have long debated relationships between cranial morphology and diet in a broad diversity of organisms. While the presence of larger temporalis muscle attachment area (via the presence of sagittal crests) in carnivorans is correlated with durophagy (i.e. hard-object feeding), many primates with similar morphologies consume an array of tough and hard foods—complicating dietary inferences of early hominins. We posit that tapirs, large herbivorous mammals showing variable sagittal crest development across species, are ideal models for examining correlations between textural properties of food and sagittal crest morphology. Here, we integrate dietary data, dental microwear texture analysis, and finite element analysis to clarify the functional significance of the sagittal crest in tapirs. Most notably, pronounced sagittal crests are negatively correlated with hard-object feeding in extant, and several extinct, tapirs and can actually increase stress and strain energy. Collectively, these data suggest that musculature associated with pronounced sagittal crests—and accompanied increases in muscle volume—assists with the processing of tough food items in tapirs and may yield similar benefits in other mammals including early hominins.

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Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.