Morphological and Physiological Adaptations for Browsing and Grazing

  • Daryl CodronEmail author
  • Reinhold R. Hofmann
  • Marcus Clauss
Part of the Ecological Studies book series (ECOLSTUD, volume 239)


Woody plants and grasses are two functionally distinct food groups that pose different mechanical, nutritional, and ecological challenges to herbivores. Accordingly, herbivores have evolved an array of morphological, physiological, and behavioural life history traits that reflect each species’ primary dietary niche. The prevalence of convergences across distantly related groups is evidence that many of these traits are adaptive. Most evaluations are, however, necessarily correlational, and so the functional relevance of many traits is still being debated. The last 2 decades has seen the emergence of larger, more representative, and quantitative datasets, which, along with statistical developments in evolutionary biology, means that a revised set of analyses is warranted. In this chapter we present a collection of updated datasets for almost 100 anatomical and physiological characteristics from 188 species. These data are subjected to phylogenetically-constrained analyses of relationships with diet niches (using %grass in the diet as a niche indicator). Results of these analyses highlight not only the extraordinary amount of convergence within this animal group, but also the constraints that morpho-physiology places on diet niches. To separate correlation from functional significance, we advocate an approach that considers the correlations between traits as part of each species’ “bauplan”, and highlight how this approach has already been used to link trends and outliers with mechanism in various datasets. While some questions about functional relevance require experimental manipulations that will almost certainly never be realized, synergies between experimental and correlational analyses are rapidly changing our understanding of how foraging adaptations, from locating and biting, to chewing and digesting food, have shaped the evolutionary diversification of mammal herbivores.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daryl Codron
    • 1
    Email author
  • Reinhold R. Hofmann
    • 2
  • Marcus Clauss
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Zoology and EntomologyUniversity of the Free StateBloemfonteinSouth Africa
  2. 2.TrompeterhausBaruth/MarkGermany
  3. 3.Clinic for Zoo Animals, Exotic Pets and Wildlife Vetsuisse FacultyUniversity of ZürichZürichSwitzerland

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