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  1. Adaptive radiations are bursts in biodiversity that generate new evolutionary lineages and phenotypes. However, because they typically occur over millions of years, it is unclear how their macroevolutionary dynamics vary through time and among groups of organisms. Phyllostomid bats radiated extensively for diverse diets-from insects to vertebrates, fruit, nectar, and blood-and we use their molars as a model system to examine the dynamics of adaptive radiations. Three-dimensional shape analyses of lower molars of Noctilionoidea (Phyllostomidae and close relatives) indicate that different diet groups exhibit distinct morphotypes. Comparative analyses further reveal that phyllostomids are a striking example of a hierarchical radiation; phyllostomids' initial, higher-level diversification involved an "early burst" in molar morphological disparity as lineages invaded new diet-affiliated adaptive zones, followed by subsequent lower-level diversifications within adaptive zones involving less dramatic morphological changes. We posit that strong selective pressures related to initial shifts to derived diets may have freed molars from morpho-functional constraints associated with the ancestral molar morphotype. Then, lineages with derived diets (frugivores and nectarivores) diversified within broad adaptive zones, likely reflecting finer-scale niche partitioning. Importantly, the observed early burst pattern is only evident when examining molar traits that are strongly linked to diet, highlighting the value of ecomorphological traits in comparative studies. Our results support the hypothesis that adaptive radiations are commonly hierarchical and involve different tempos and modes at different phylogenetic levels, with early bursts being more common at higher levels. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available March 1, 2025
  2. With diverse mechanical and sensory functions, the vertebrate cranium is a complex anatomical structure whose shifts between modularity and integration, especially in mechanical func- tion, have been implicated in adaptive diversification. Yet how me- chanical and sensory systems and their functions coevolve, as well as how their interrelationship contributes to phenotypic disparity, remain largely unexplored. To examine the modularity, integration, and evolutionary rates of sensory and mechanical structures within the head, we analyzed hard and soft tissue scans from ecologically diverse bats in the superfamily Noctilionoidea, a clade that ranges from insectivores and carnivores to frugivores and nectarivores. We identified eight regions that evolved in a coordinated fashion, thus recognizable as evolutionary modules: five associated with bite force and three linked to olfactory, visual, and auditory systems. Interrelationships among these modules differ between Neotropical leaf-nosed bats (family Phyllostomidae) and other noctilionoids. Consistent with the hypothesis that dietary transitions begin with changes in the capacity to detect novel food items followed by adap- tations to process them, peak rates of sensory module evolution pre- date those of some mechanical modules. We propose that the co- evolution of structures influencing bite force, olfaction, vision, and hearing constituted a structural opportunity that allowed the phyllostomid ancestor to take advantage of existing ecological op- portunities and contributed to the clade’s remarkable radiation. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available August 1, 2024
  3. Abstract

    Tooth classes are an innovation that has contributed to the evolutionary success of mammals. However, our understanding of the mechanisms by which tooth classes diversified remain limited. We use the evolutionary radiation of noctilionoid bats to show how the tooth developmental program evolved during the adaptation to new diet types. Combining morphological, developmental and mathematical modeling approaches, we demonstrate that tooth classes develop through independent developmental cascades that deviate from classical models. We show that the diversification of tooth number and size is driven by jaw growth rate modulation, explaining the rapid gain/loss of teeth in this clade. Finally, we mathematically model the successive appearance of tooth buds, supporting the hypothesis that growth acts as a key driver of the evolution of tooth number and size. Our work reveal how growth, by tinkering with reaction/diffusion processes, drives the diversification of tooth classes and other repeated structure during adaptive radiations.

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  4. Abstract Background

    Through the evolution of novel wing structures, bats (Order Chiroptera) became the only mammalian group to achieve powered flight. This achievement preceded the massive adaptive radiation of bats into diverse ecological niches. We investigate some of the developmental processes that underlie the origin and subsequent diversification of one of the novel membranes of the bat wing: the plagiopatagium, which connects the fore- and hind limb in all bat species.


    Our results suggest that the plagiopatagium initially arises through novel outgrowths from the body flank that subsequently merge with the limbs to generate the wing airfoil. Our findings further suggest that this merging process, which is highly conserved across bats, occurs through modulation of the programs controlling the development of the periderm of the epidermal epithelium. Finally, our results suggest that the shape of the plagiopatagium begins to diversify in bats only after this merging has occurred.


    This study demonstrates how focusing on the evolution of cellular processes can inform an understanding of the developmental factors shaping the evolution of novel, highly adaptive structures.

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  5. For the first 100+ million years of their evolutionary history, the majority of mammals were very small, and many exhibited relatively generalized locomotor ecologies. Among extant mammals, small-bodied, generalist species share similar hindlimb bone morphology and locomotor mechanics, but details of their musculature have not been investigated. To examine whether hindlimb muscle architecture properties are also similar, we dissected hindlimb muscles of the gray short-tailed opossum (Monodelphis domestica) and aggregated muscle properties from the literature for three other small-bodied mammals (Mus musculus, Rattus norvegicus, Cavia porcellus). We then studied hindlimb musculature from a whole-limb perspective and by separating the limb into nine anatomical regions. The region analysis explained substantially more variance in the data (r2: 0.601 > 0.074) but only detected six statistically significant pairwise species differences in muscle architecture properties. This finding suggests either deep conservation of therian hindlimb muscle properties or, more likely, a biomechanical constraint imposed by small body size. In addition, we find specialization for either large force production (i.e., PCSA) or longer active working ranges (i.e. long muscle fascicles) in proximal limb regions but neither specialization in more distal limb regions. This functional pattern may be key for small mammals to traverse across uneven and shifting substrates, regardless of environment. These findings are particularly relevant for researchers seeking to reconstruct and model soft tissue properties of extinct mammals during the early evolutionary history of the clade. 
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  6. Abstract

    The evolution of complex dentitions in mammals was a major innovation that facilitated the expansion into new dietary niches, which imposed selection for tight form–function relationships. Teeth allow mammals to ingest and process food items by applying forces produced by a third-class lever system composed by the jaw adductors, the cranium, and the mandible. Physical laws determine changes in jaw adductor (biting) forces at different bite point locations along the mandible (outlever), thus, individual teeth are expected to experience different mechanical regimes during feeding. If the mammal dentition exhibits functional adaptations to mandible feeding biomechanics, then teeth are expected to have evolved to develop mechanically advantageous sizes, shapes, and positions. Here, we present bats as a model system to test this hypothesis and, more generally, for integrative studies of mammal dental diversity. We combine a field-collected dataset of bite forces along the tooth row with data on dental and mandible morphology across 30 bat species. We (1) describe, for the first time, bite force trends along the tooth row of bats; (2) use phylogenetic comparative methods to investigate relationships among bite force patterns, tooth, and mandible morphology; and (3) hypothesize how these biting mechanics patterns may relate to the developmental processes controlling tooth formation. We find that bite force variation along the tooth row is consistent with predictions from lever mechanics models, with most species having the greatest bite force at the first lower molar. The cross-sectional shape of the mandible body is strongly associated with the position of maximum bite force along the tooth row, likely reflecting mandibular adaptations to varying stress patterns among species. Further, dental dietary adaptations seem to be related to bite force variation along molariform teeth, with insectivorous species exhibiting greater bite force more anteriorly, narrower teeth and mandibles, and frugivores/omnivores showing greater bite force more posteriorly, wider teeth and mandibles. As these craniodental traits are linked through development, dietary specialization appears to have shaped intrinsic mechanisms controlling traits relevant to feeding performance.

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  7. null (Ed.)
    Synopsis Among the developmental processes that have been proposed to influence the direction of evolution, the modular organization of developmental gene regulatory networks (GRNs) has shown particular promise. In theory, GRNs have core modules comprised of essential, conserved circuits of genes, and sub-modules of downstream, secondary circuits of genes that are more susceptible to variation. While this idea has received considerable interest as of late, the field of evo-devo lacks the experimental systems needed to rigorously evaluate this hypothesis. Here, we introduce an experimental system, the vertebrate tooth, that has great potential as a model for testing this hypothesis. Tooth development and its associated GRN have been well studied and modeled in both model and non-model organisms. We propose that the existence of modules within the tooth GRN explains both the conservation of developmental mechanisms and the extraordinary diversity of teeth among vertebrates. Based on experimental data, we hypothesize that there is a conserved core module of genes that is absolutely necessary to ensure tooth or cusp initiation and development. In regard to tooth shape variation between species, we suggest that more relaxed sub-modules activated at later steps of tooth development, for example, during the morphogenesis of the tooth and its cusps, control the different axes of tooth morphological variation. 
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  8. While evolvability of genes and traits may promote specialization during species diversification, how ecology subsequently restricts such variation remains unclear. Chemosensation requires animals to decipher a complex chemical background to locate fitness-related resources, and thus the underlying genomic architecture and morphology must cope with constant exposure to a changing odorant landscape; detecting adaptation amidst extensive chemosensory diversity is an open challenge. In phyllostomid bats, an ecologically diverse clade that evolved plant-visiting from an insectivorous ancestor, the evolution of novel food detection mechanisms is suggested to be a key innovation, as plant-visiting species rely strongly on olfaction, supplementarily using echolocation. If this is true, exceptional variation in underlying olfactory genes and phenotypes may have preceded dietary diversification. We compared olfactory receptor (OR) genes sequenced from olfactory epithelium transcriptomes and olfactory epithelium surface area of bats with differing diets. Surprisingly, although OR evolution rates were quite variable and generally high, they are largely independent of diet. Olfactory epithelial surface area, however, is relatively larger in plant-visiting bats and there is an inverse relationship between OR evolution rates and surface area. Relatively larger surface areas suggest greater reliance on olfactory detection and stronger constraint on maintaining an already diverse OR repertoire. Instead of the typical case in which specialization and elaboration are coupled with rapid diversification of associated genes, here the relevant genes are already evolving so quickly that increased reliance on smell has led to stabilizing selection, presumably to maintain the ability to consistently discriminate among specific odorants — a potential ecological constraint on sensory evolution. 
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  9. null (Ed.)
  10. Abstract

    Sensory organs must develop alongside the skull within which they are largely encased, and this relationship can manifest as the skull constraining the organs, organs constraining the skull, or organs constraining one another in relative size. How this interplay between sensory organs and the developing skull plays out during the evolution of sensory diversity; however, remains unknown. Here, we examine the developmental sequence of the cochlea, the organ responsible for hearing and echolocation, in species with distinct diet and echolocation types within the ecologically diverse bat super‐family Noctilionoidea. We found the size and shape of the cochlea largely correlates with skull size, with exceptions ofPteronotus parnellii, whose high duty cycle echolocation (nearly constant emission of sound pulses during their echolocation process allowing for detailed information gathering, also called constant frequency echolocation) corresponds to a larger cochlear and basal turn, andMonophyllus redmani, a small‐bodied nectarivorous bat, for which interactions with other sensory organs restrict cochlea size. Our findings support the existence of developmental constraints, suggesting that both developmental and anatomical factors may act synergistically during the development of sensory systems in noctilionoid bats.

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