The evolution of cranial form and function in theropod dinosaurs: Insights from geometric morphometrics

S.L. Brusatte, S. Montanari, W.E.H. Harcourt Smith, M. Sakamoto

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Theropod dinosaurs, an iconic clade of fossil species including Tyrannosaurus and Velociraptor, developed a great diversity of body size, skull form and feeding habits over their 160+ million year evolutionary history. Here, we utilize geometric morphometrics to study broad patterns in theropod skull shape variation and compare the distribution of taxa in cranial morphospace (form) to both phylogeny and quantitative metrics of biting behaviour (function). We find that theropod skulls primarily differ in relative anteroposterior length and snout depth and to a lesser extent in orbit size and depth of the cheek region, and oviraptorosaurs deviate most strongly from the "typical" and ancestral theropod morphologies. Noncarnivorous taxa generally fall out in distinct regions of morphospace and exhibit greater overall disparity than carnivorous taxa, whereas large-bodied carnivores independently converge on the same region of morphospace. The distribution of taxa in morphospace is strongly correlated with phylogeny but only weakly correlated with functional biting behaviour. These results imply that phylogeny, not biting function, was the major determinant of theropod skull shape.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)365-377
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Evolutionary Biology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2012


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