Evolution of jaw disparity in fishes

Jennifer J. Hill, Mark N. Puttick, Thomas L. Stubbs, Emily J. Rayfield, Philip C.J. Donoghue

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (SciVal)


The morphology of the vertebrate lower jaw has been used to infer feeding ecology, with transformations in mandibular shape and structure likely to have facilitated the emergence of different feeding behaviours in vertebrate evolution. Here we present elliptical Fourier shape and principal component analyses, characterizing and comparing the disparity of jaw shape in early gnathostomes and their modern primitively aquatic counterparts. 83% of shape variation is summarized on the first three principal component axes and all component clades of early gnathostomes exhibit overlapping morphological variation. Non-tetrapodomorph Palaeozoic sarcopterygians are more disparate than their extant counterparts whereas extant chondrichthyans are more disparate than their Palaeozoic counterparts. More generally, extant jawed fishes are more disparate than their Palaeozoic relatives largely because of the extensive shape variation exhibited by mandibles of extant actinopterygians. Only some areas of shape space vacated by Palaeozoic gnathostomes have been convergently refilled by living taxa. Characterization of theoretical jaw morphologies demonstrates that fewer than half of all possible shapes are realized by the jawed fishes that comprise our empirical dataset; many of these morphologies are realized by unrepresented terrestrial tetrapods, implying environmental constraint. Our results are incompatible with the early burst model of clade evolution and contradict the hypothesis that maximum disparity is reached early in the evolutionary history of jawed fishes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)847-854
Number of pages8
Issue number6
Early online date28 May 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2018


  • Disparity
  • Gnathostomes
  • Lower jaw
  • Macroevolution
  • Morphospace
  • Shape analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Palaeontology


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