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Morphological evolution of carnivoran milk teeth

Carnivorans (dogs, cats, and their relatives) show remarkable diversity of forms and habits. The variations in the shapes of their cheek teeth are prime examples of dietary adaptations that enabled different lineages to exploit such disparate food items as fruits, insects, mollusks, and vertebrate meat. However, most of what we know about the relationship between diet and tooth shapes in carnivorans is based on studies of adult teeth. Do the milk teeth of carnivorans show a range of dental morphology comparable to that of adult teeth? The goal of this project is to investigate whether similar selective pressures drive the morphological evolution of milk teeth and adult teeth.

Research methods and techniques: We will examine carnivoran skulls in the Mammals Collections of the Field Museum to gather information on the shapes of milk teeth, taking detailed notes and photographs. Measurements of the milk teeth will be taken that, when taken from their adult counterparts, are known to be indicative of adult diet. Variation in the shapes of milk teeth among species will be described. Using phylogenetic comparative methods, we will test how closely milk-tooth shapes are: (1) correlated with adult-tooth shapes; and (2) tied to juvenile/adult diet.

Advisors: Dr. Kenneth Angielczyk (Curator, Geology) and Dr. Susumu Tomiya (Postdoctoral Researcher, Geology)