The coevolution of rostral keratin and tooth distribution in dinosaurs

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The Royal Society


Teeth evolved early in vertebrate evolution, and their morphology reflects important specializations in diet and ecology among species. The toothless jaws (edentulism) in extant birds likely coevolved with beak keratin, which functionally replaced teeth. However, extinct dinosaurs lost teeth multiple times independently and exhibited great variation in toothrow distribution and rhamphotheca-like keratin structures. Here, we use rostral jawbone surface texture as a proxy for rostral keratin covering and phylogenetic comparative models to test for the influence of rostral keratin on toothrow distribution in Mesozoic dinosaurs. We find that the evolution of rostral keratin covering explains partial toothrow reduction but not jaw toothlessness. Toothrow reduction preceded the evolution of rostral keratin cover in theropods. Non-theropod dinosaurs evolved continuous toothrows despite evolving rostral keratin covers (e.g. some ornithischians and sauropodomorphs). We also show that rostral keratin covers did not significantly increase the evolutionary rate of tooth loss, which further delineates the antagonistic relationship between these structures. Our results suggest that the evolution of rostral keratin had a limited effect on suppressing tooth development. Independent changes in jaw development may have facilitated further tooth loss. Furthermore, the evolution of strong chemical digestion, a gizzard, and a dietary shift to omnivory or herbivory likely alleviated selective pressures for tooth development.



rostral keratin, tooth distribution, dinosaurs, coevolution, teeth, Mesozoic dinosaurs, tooth development


Aguilar-Pedrayes I, GardnerJD, Organ CL. 2024 The coevolution of rostralkeratin and tooth distribution in dinosaurs.Proc. R. Soc. B291: 20231713.
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