A new paper by the FUNEVOL team was just published online in Current Biology.



The terrestrialization process involved dramatic changes in the cranial anatomy of vertebrates. The braincase, which was initially divided into two portions by the intracranial joint in sarcopterygian fishes, became consolidated into a single unit in tetrapods and lungfishes [1–3]. The coelacanth Latimeria is the only extant vertebrate that retains an intracranial joint, which is associated with a unique paired muscle: the basicranial muscle. The intracranial joint has long been thought to be involved in suction feeding by allowing an extensive elevation of the anterior portion of the skull, followed by its rapid depression driven by the basicranial muscle [4–7]. However, we recently challenged this hypothesis [8, 9], and the role of the basicranial muscle with respect to the intracranial joint thus remains unclear. Using 3D biomechanical modeling, we show here that the basicranial muscle and the intracranial joint are involved in biting force generation. By flexing the anterior portion of the skull at the level of the intracranial joint, the basicranial muscle increases the overall bite force. This likely allows Latimeria to feed on a broad range of preys [10, 11] and coelacanths to colonize a wide range of environments during their evolution [4]. The variation in the morphology of the intracranial joint observed in Devonian lobe-finned fishes would have impacted to various degrees their biting performance and might have permitted feeding specializations despite the stability in their lower jaw morphology [12].