The Holes of Moles: Osteological Correlates of the Trigeminal Nerve in Talpidae
Talpidae consists of small insectivorous mammals exhibiting a range of environmental preferences. As all its members rely on a highly developed somatosensation system, they are an ideal study-group for investigating osteological correlates of the trigeminal nerve. We quantitatively studied cranial anatomy in 22 species of desman, shrew-mole, and true mole using microscopy and micro-CT imaging to investigate whether the infraorbital foramina within Talpidae is enlarged in semiaquatic forms and more broadly associated with habitat preference. We also investigated whether associated foramina were covariant. In order to account for a phylogenetic basis for any correlations, we reconstructed the best taxonomically sampled phylogeny for talpids in the literature to date, based on cytochrome b. Relationships among genera and species are broadly congruent with previous analyses; however, we report new placements for Neurotrichus gibbsii and Mogera tokudae. Although no correlation was found between habitat and the caliber of the V3 associated mandibular canal and foramen ovale, our results indicate that semiaquatic forms show larger infraorbital foramina in comparison to terrestrial species, and that the caliber of the sphenorbital fissure can also serve as a proxy for habitat preference. This work, therefore, supports the use of certain osteological features to infer habitat preferences in fossil species and indicates this can be achieved even when studying ecologically diverse, closely related species within the same family.