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Cranial strength in relation to estimated biting forces in some Mammals
The mammalian skull has proven to be remarkably plastic during ontogeny and phylogeny in response to the demands of mastication. I examine whether the bending strength of the skull in some mammals correlates with the maximal loads imposed through the masticatory apparatus. The approach is analytical, using the methods of beam theory. Cranial strength is estimated from the second moment of area and other geometrical measurements made from 20–30 transverse CT scans through the skulls of 20 opossums (Didelphis virginiana), and through single skulls of five felid and five canid genera of different sizes. Maximal biting forces were first estimated from areas on the dried skulls bounding the spaces filled in life by the jaw-adducting muscles. These estimates were then adjusted with reference to forces recorded in vivo or, for other specimens, to estimates based on dissections of the jaw muscles. Stress distribution in the face, and peak stresses, were calculated for each animal. Stress levels are low (5–35 MPa) compared with peak stresses in limb bones (40–100 MPa), which correlates with the lower in vivo strains in cranial bones reported in the literature. Stress estimates are in a range that is plausible, which supports the validity of the procedure. Patterns of stress distribution along the face are comparable within each group of animals. Peak stress is independent of size for the carnivorans, but decreases with increasing skull length in D. virginiana. High bending strength of the skull is a consequence of cranial form in mammals; having to enclose the brain, for example, increases the bending strength of the skull. Furthermore, factors such as stiffness or shear and torsional strength may be more important than bending strength. However, bending stress levels appear to be closely regulated, as in other bones that have been studied. The threshold for optimising bending strength and weight is simply at a different level.