Bite forces and evolutionary adaptations to feeding ecology in carnivores

Ecology. 2007 Feb;88(2):347-58. doi: 10.1890/0012-9658(2007)88[347:bfaeat];2.


The Carnivora spans the largest ecological and body size diversity of any mammalian order, making it an ideal basis for studies of evolutionary ecology and functional morphology. For animals with different feeding ecologies, it may be expected that bite force represents an important evolutionary adaptation, but studies have been constrained by a lack of bite force data. In this study we present predictions of bite forces for 151 species of extant carnivores, comprising representatives from all eight families and the entire size and ecological spectrum within the order. We show that, when normalized for body size, bite forces differ significantly between the various feeding categories. At opposing extremes and independent of genealogy, consumers of tough fibrous plant material and carnivores preying on large prey both have high bite forces for their size, while bite force adjusted for body mass is low among specialized insectivores. Omnivores and carnivores preying on small prey have more moderate bite forces for their size. These findings indicate that differences in bite force represent important adaptations to and indicators of differing feeding ecologies throughout carnivoran evolution. Our results suggest that the incorporation of bite force data may assist in the construction of more robust evolutionary and palaeontological analyses of feeding ecology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Bite Force
  • Body Size / physiology
  • Carnivora / physiology*
  • Diet*
  • Ecosystem
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Jaw / physiology*