The Evolutionary Continuum of Functional Homodonty to Heterodonty in the Dentition of Halichoeres Wrasses. uri icon


  • Vertebrate dentitions are often collapsed into a few discrete categories, obscuring both potentially important functional differences between them and insight into their evolution. The terms homodonty and heterodonty typically conflate tooth morphology with tooth function, and require context-dependent subcategories to take on any specific meaning. Qualifiers like incipient, transient, or phylogenetic homodonty attempt to provide a more rigorous definition but instead highlight the difficulties in categorizing dentitions. To address these issues, we recently proposed a method for quantifying the function of dental batteries based on the estimated stress of each tooth (inferred using surface area) standardized for jaw out-lever (inferred using tooth position). This method reveals a homodonty-heterodonty functional continuum where small and large teeth work together to transmit forces to a prey item. Morphological homodonty or heterodonty refers to morphology, whereas functional homodonty or heterodonty refers to transmission of stress. In this study, we use Halichoeres wrasses to explore how functional continuum can be used in phylogenetic analyses by generating two continuous metrics from the functional homodonty-heterodonty continuum. Here we show that functionally heterodont teeth have evolved at least three times in Halichoeres wrasses. There are more functionally heterodont teeth on upper jaws than on lower jaws, but functionally heterodont teeth on the lower jaws bear significantly more stress. These nuances, which have functional consequences, would be missed by binning entire dentitions into discrete categories. This analysis points out areas worth taking a closer look at from a mechanical and developmental point of view with respect to the distribution and type of heterodonty seen in different jaws and different areas of jaws. These data, on a small group of wrasses, suggest continuous dental variables can be a rich source of insight into the evolution of fish feeding mechanisms across a wider variety of species.

publication date

  • September 24, 2020