Ontogenetic and functional modularity in the rodent mandible

Rachel A. Menegaz, Matthew J. Ravosa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


The material properties of diets consumed by juvenile individuals are known to affect adult morphological outcomes. However, much of the current experimental knowledge regarding dietary effects on masticatory form is derived from studies in which individuals are fed a non-variable diet for the duration of their postweaning growth period. Thus, it remains unclear how intra-individual variation in diet, due to ontogenetic variation in feeding behaviors or seasonal resource fluctuations, affects the resulting adult morphology. Furthermore, the mandible is composed of multiple developmental and functional subunits, and the extent to which growth and plasticity among these modules is correlated may be misestimated by studies that examine non-variable masticatory function in adults only. To address these gaps in our current knowledge, this study raised Sprague Dawley rats (n = 42) in four dietary cohorts from weaning to skeletal maturity. Two cohorts were fed a stable (“annual”) diet of either solid or powdered pellets. The other two cohorts were fed a variable (“seasonal”) diet consisting of solid/powdered pellets for the first half of the study, followed by a shift to the opposite diet. Results of longitudinal morphometric analyses indicate that variation in the mandibular corpus is more prominent at immature ontogenetic stages, likely due to processes of dental eruption and the growth of tooth roots. Furthermore, adult morphology is influenced by both masticatory function and the ontogenetic timing of this function, e.g., the consumption of a mechanically resistant diet. The morphology of the coronoid process was found to separate cohorts on the basis of their early weanling diet, suggesting that the coronoid process/temporalis muscle module may have an early plasticity window related to high growth rates during this life stage. Conversely, the morphology of the angular process was found to be influenced by the consumption of a mechanically resistant diet at any point during the growth period, but with a tendency to reflect the most recent diet. The prolonged plasticity window of the angular process/pterygomasseteric muscle module may be related to delayed ossification and muscular maturation within this module. The research presented here highlights the importance of more naturalistic models of mammalian feeding, and underscores the need for a better understanding of the processes of both morphological and behavioral maturation that follow weaning.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)61-72
Number of pages12
StatePublished - Oct 2017


  • Dietary variability
  • Fallback foods
  • Mammals
  • Phenotypic plasticity


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