Question Corner: Why do herbivores have strong jaws?

A pair of one-horned rhinos and cattle graze side by side.  

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Herbivores, or plant-eaters, are known to have strong jaws with broad, flat back teeth which help them grind and eat tough plant tissues. Some of the early herbivores including plant-eating dinosaurs also had strong jaws. A new study (Nature Communications) has shown that herbivores developed strong jaws after the mass extinctions that happened millions of years ago. They had to eat different kinds of plants and chew harsher materials, so they evolved stronger jaws.

The team measured hundreds of fossil jaws and compared their shapes with living animals. They tried to understand the bite force, mechanical advantage and how fast the jaws shut. The researchers note that as plants diversified during the Triassic era (252–201 million years ago) the herbivores also evolved to eat the new kinds of plants. The drying conditions in the Late Triassic, led to many softer plant groups becoming less common, and dry-adapted conifers spreading worldwide. These changes also drove patterns of extinction. The hardy herbivores thrived, as other herbivores died out.

Mike Benton, from the University of Bristol, who co-led the study explained in a release that this sheds real light on key processes at an ecological level and helps explain why some groups died out and were replaced by others such as the first dinosaurs.

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Printable version | Jun 23, 2021 4:24:01 AM |

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