Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Restricted accessResearch articles

The sharpest tools in the box? Quantitative analysis of conodont element functional morphology

David Jones

David Jones

School of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol, Wills Memorial Building, Queen's Road, Bristol BS8 1RJ, UK

[email protected]

Google Scholar

Find this author on PubMed

,
Alistair R. Evans

Alistair R. Evans

School of Biological Sciences, Monash University, Clayton, VIC 3800, Australia

Google Scholar

Find this author on PubMed

,
Karen K. W. Siu

Karen K. W. Siu

Monash Biomedical Imaging/School of Physics, Monash University, Clayton, VIC 3800, Australia

Australian Synchrotron, 800 Blackburn Road, Clayton, VIC 3800, Australia

Google Scholar

Find this author on PubMed

,
Emily J. Rayfield

Emily J. Rayfield

School of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol, Wills Memorial Building, Queen's Road, Bristol BS8 1RJ, UK

Google Scholar

Find this author on PubMed

and
Philip C. J. Donoghue

Philip C. J. Donoghue

School of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol, Wills Memorial Building, Queen's Road, Bristol BS8 1RJ, UK

Google Scholar

Find this author on PubMed

    Conodonts have been considered the earliest skeletonizing vertebrates and their mineralized feeding apparatus interpreted as having performed a tooth function. However, the absence of jaws in conodonts and the small size of their oropharyngeal musculature limits the force available for fracturing food items, presenting a challenge to this interpretation. We address this issue quantitatively using engineering approaches previously applied to mammalian dentitions. We show that the morphology of conodont food-processing elements was adapted to overcome size limitations through developing dental tools of unparalleled sharpness that maximize applied pressure. Combined with observations of wear, we also show how this morphology was employed, demonstrating how Wurmiella excavata used rotational kinematics similar to other conodonts, suggesting that this occlusal style is typical for the clade. Our work places conodont elements within a broader dental framework, providing a phylogenetically independent system for examining convergence and scaling in dental tools.

    References