Evolution of bite force in Darwin's finches: a key role for head width

J Evol Biol. 2005 May;18(3):669-75. doi: 10.1111/j.1420-9101.2004.00857.x.


Studies of Darwin's finches of the Galapagos Islands have provided pivotal insights into the interplay of ecological variation, natural selection, and morphological evolution. Here we document, across nine Darwin's finch species, correlations between morphological variation and bite force capacity. We find that bite force correlates strongly with beak depth and width but only weakly or not at all with beak length, a result that is consistent with prior demonstrations of natural selection on finch beak morphology. We also find that bite force is predicted even more strongly by head width, which exceeds all beak dimensions in predictive strength. To explain this result we suggest that head width determines the maximum size, and thus maximum force generation capacity of finch jaw adductor muscles. We suggest that head width is functionally relevant and may be a previously unrecognized locus of natural selection in these birds, because of its close relationship to bite force capacity.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Beak / anatomy & histology
  • Beak / physiology*
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Body Weights and Measures
  • Ecuador
  • Finches / anatomy & histology
  • Finches / physiology*
  • Head / anatomy & histology*
  • Phylogeny
  • Regression Analysis
  • Selection, Genetic
  • Species Specificity