Evidence for the influence of diet on cranial form and robusticity

Rachel A. Menegaz, Samantha V. Sublett, Said D. Figueroa, Timothy J. Hoffman, Matthew J. Ravosa, Kristina Aldridge

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47 Scopus citations


The evolutionary significance of cranial form and robusticity in early Homo has been variously attributed to allometry, encephalization, metabolic factors, locomotor activity, and masticatory forces. However, the influence of such factors is variably understood. To evaluate the effect of masticatory loading on neurocranial form, sibling groups of weanling white rabbits were divided into two cohorts of 10 individuals each and raised on either a soft diet or a hard/tough diet for 16 weeks until subadulthood. Micro-CT was used to quantify and visualize morphological variation between treatment groups. Results reveal trends (P < 0.10) for greater outer table thickness of the frontal bones, zygomatic height, and cranial globularity in rabbits raised on a hard/tough diet. Furthermore, analyses of three-dimensional coordinate landmark data indicate that the basicrania of hard/tough diet rabbits exhibit more robust middle cranial fossae and pterygoid plates, as well as altered overall morphology of the caudal cranial fossa. Thus, long term increases in masticatory loads may result in thickening of the bones of the neurocranial vault and/or altering the curvature of the walls. Differences in cranial regions not directly associated with the generation or resistance of masticatory forces (i.e., frontal bone, basicranium) may be indirectly correlated with diet-induced variation in maxillomandibular morphology. These findings also suggest that long-term variation in masticatory forces associated with differences in dietary properties can contribute to the complex and multifactorial development of neurocranial morphology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)630-641
Number of pages12
JournalAnatomical Record
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2010


  • Cranial globularity
  • Cranial vault thickness
  • Dietary properties
  • Masticatory stresses/loads
  • Plasticity
  • Rabbits


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