Bite Force in Vertebrates: Opportunities and Caveats for Use of a Nonpareil Whole-Animal Performance Measure

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Biological Journal of the Linnean Society






Measurements of whole-organism performance traits have been useful in studies of adaptation and phenotype–environment correlations. Bite force capacities may be tightly linked to both the type and magnitude of the ecological challenges of food acquisition, mate acquisition, and antipredation in vertebrates. In the present study, we present technical details on bite meters and on measuring bite forces. The ability to take reliable measurements depends on specific features of the measuring device and on where in the mouth the bite is applied. Using both previously available and original data, we demonstrate several ecologically and evolutionarily relevant features of bite force measurements. First, maximal bite forces are repeatable among individuals across all vertebrates studied to date. Second, in ectotherms such as lizards, maximal bite forces are affected by body temperature and motivational states. Third, bite forces are strongly correlated with head size and shape. Fourth, bite forces correlate with features of prey of vertebrates. Finally, bite forces are linked to male dominance and correlated with social-display structures. Thus, bite force performance measures can be used as ‘traits’, and thus be used in integrative studies at multiple levels of organismal biology. Accordingly, bite force data will help our understanding of the functions, capacities, and evolution of jaw–cranial musculoskeletal systems. Moreover, a plethora of opportunities exist for the use of bite force measurements, and if methods are carefully applied, several levels of organismal and ecological organization can be integrated to aid our understanding of the ecology and evolution of vertebrate taxa.