The cranial sutures of terrestrial cetartiodactyl mammals
We recorded the relative timing of fusion of 29 ectocranial sutures in 480 skulls belonging to 35 extant and four fossil species from all major clades of terrestrial artiodactyls. The resulting data were studied in a phylogenetic context, using mapping of event-pairing of suture fusion events and Parsimov. As phylogenetic framework we generated a compound phylogeny from several previously published analyses. Overall suture closure per species ranged from five to all 29 sutures in Hexaprotodon. All living non-ruminants (suids, camelids, and hippopotamids) fuse more than 50% of the studied sutures (most over 75%), whereas in almost all ruminants less than 50% of the sutures fuse completely. Phylogenetic regression found a significant correlation between suture closure and body mass. In all species we observed an early fusion of the sutures surrounding the foramen magnum (Exoccipital-Supraoccipital, Exoccipital-Basioccipital), a consistent scheme also among other mammals. Scaling the number of changes to the number of sutures in each of the usually recognized skull modules reveals relatively equal numbers of changes in the cranial vault, the zygomatic-sphenoid region, the orbit, and the anterior oral-nasal region. Only the basicranium shows a much smaller number in terms of absolute and relative amount of suture fusion change. Some species show a unique pattern of suture fusion, such as the early fusion of many sutures in the palatal region in Pecari or that of premaxillary sutures in †Cainotherium, perhaps related to feeding mode. A strategy to strengthen the skull by obliterating the sutures could explain the pattern of increased sutural fusion in ruminant species with large cranial appendages.