Project 4097: M. R. Whitney, K. D. Angielczyk, B. R. Peecook, C. A. Sidor. 2021. The evolution of the synapsid tusk: insights from dicynodont therapsid tusk histology. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. (In Press)
Specimen: † Diictodon
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The mammalian tusk is a unique and extreme morphotype among modern vertebrate dentitions. Tusks—defined here as ever-growing incisors or canines composed of dentine—evolved independently multiple times within mammals yet have not evolved in other extant vertebrates. This suggests that there is a feature specific to mammals that facilitates the evolution of this specialized dentition. To investigate what may underpin the evolution of tusks, we histologically sampled the tusks of dicynodont therapsids: the earliest iteration of tusk evolution and the only non-mammalian synapsid clade to have acquired such a dentition. We studied the tissue composition, attachment tissues, development, and replacement in ten dicynodont taxa and show multiple developmental pathways for the adult dentitions of dicynodont tusks and tusk-like caniniforms. In a phylogenetic context, these developmental pathways reveal an evolutionary scenario for the acquisition of an ever-growing tusk—an event that occurred convergently, but only in derived members of our sample. We propose that the evolution of an ever-growing dentition, such as a tusk, is predicated on the evolution of significantly reduced tooth replacement and a permanent soft-tissue attachment. Both of these features are fixed in the dentitions of crown-group mammals, which helps to explain why tusks are restricted to this clade among extant vertebrates.

Project DOI: 10.7934/P4097,
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