Heterodonty in Crocodylia and closely related taxa has not been defined quantitatively, as the teeth rarely have been measured. This has resulted in a range of qualitative descriptors, with little consensus on the condition of dental morphology in the clade. The purpose of this study is to present a method for the quantification of both size- and shape-heterodonty in members of Crocodylia. Data were collected from dry skeletal and fossil specimens of 34 crown crocodylians and one crocodyliform, resulting in 21 species total. Digital photographs were taken of each tooth and the skull, and the margins of both were converted into landmarks and semilandmarks. We expressed heterodonty through Foote’s morphological disparity, and a principal components analysis quantified shape variance. All specimens sampled were heterodont to varying degrees, with the majority of the shape variance represented by a ‘caniniform’ to ‘molariform’ transition. Heterodonty varied significantly between positions; size undulated whereas shape was significantly linear from mesial to distal. Size and shape appeared to be primarily decoupled. Skull shape correlated significantly with tooth shape. High size-heterodonty often correlated with relatively large caniniform teeth, reflecting a prioritization of securing prey. Large, highly molariform, distal teeth may be a consequence of high-frequency durophagy combined with prey size. The slender-snouted skull shape correlated with a caniniform arcade with low heterodonty. This was reminiscent of other underwater-feeding tetrapods, as they often focus on small prey that requires minimal processing. Several extinct taxa were very molariform, which was associated with low heterodonty. The terrestrial peirosaurid shared similarities with large modern crocodylian taxa, but may have processed prey differently. Disparity measures can be inflated or deflated if certain teeth are absent from the tooth row, and regression analysis may not best apply to strongly slender-snouted taxa. Nevertheless, when these methods are used in tandem they can give a complete picture of crocodylian heterodonty. Future researchers may apply our proposed method to most crocodylian specimens with an intact enough tooth row regardless of age, species, or rearing conditions, as this will add rigor to many life history studies of the clade.
Caniniform, dentition, semilandmarks, diet, crown, geometric morphometrics, molariform, crocodyliformes
D’Amore D., Harmon M., Drumheller S. K., & Testin J. J. (2019). Quantitative Heterodonty in Crocodylia: Assessing Size and Shape Across Modern and Extinct Taxa. PeerJ, 7:e6485. https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.6485