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Sharlene Santana in UW News on bat teeth and jaw evolution

Friday, October 27, 2023 - 11:45

UW News has posted a story about the first findings of a new project to understand how a unique group of closely-related bat species evolved wildly different jaws, teeth and faces as they adapted to eat different food sources. Co-author on the paper is UW Biology Professor and curator of mammals at the Burke Museum, Sharlene Santana. Dr. Santana has been working with lead author Dr. Alexa Sadier, who began this project as a postdoctoral researcher at UCLA and is an incoming faculty member at the Institute of Evolutionary Science of Montpellier in France.

There are more than 200 species of noctilionoid bats, mostly in the American tropics. Some species feed on insects. Others eat fruit. Still others eat fish – or drink nectar – or even drink blood, since this group includes the infamous vampire bats.

A paper published Aug. 22 in Nature Communications shows those adaptations include dramatic, but also consistent, modifications to tooth number, size, shape and position. For example, bats with short snouts lack certain teeth, presumably due to a lack of space. Species with longer jaws have room for more teeth.

The researchers behind this project say that comparing noctilionoid species can reveal a lot about how mammalian faces evolved and developed, particularly jaws and teeth. The project can also uncover some of the basics of how our own teeth develop – information that’s been sorely lacking.

Read the full story on UW News.

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