The aim of this analysis was to establish the basic mechanical principles of simple archosaur cranial form. In particular we estimated the influence of two key archosaur innovations, the secondary palate and the antorbital fenestra, on the optimal resistance of biting-induced loads. Although such simplified models cannot substitute for more complex cranial geometries, they can act as a clearly derived benchmark that can serve as a reference point for future studies incorporating more complex geometry. We created finite element (FE) models comprising either a tall, domed (oreinirostral) snout or a broad, flat (platyrostral) archosaur snout. Peak von Mises stress was recorded in models with and without a secondary palate and/or antorbital fenestra after the application of bite loads to the tooth row. We examined bilateral bending and unilateral torsion-inducing bites for a series of bite positions along the jaw, and conducted a sensitivity analysis of material properties. Pairwise comparison between different FE morphotypes revealed that oreinirostral models are stronger than their platyrostral counterparts. Oreinirostral models are also stronger in bending than in torsion, whereas platyrostral models are equally susceptible to either load type. As expected, we found that models with a fenestra always have greatest peak stresses and by inference are “weaker,” significantly so in oreinirostral forms and anterior biting platyrostral forms. Surprisingly, although adding a palate always lowers peak stress, this is rarely by large magnitudes and is not significant in bilateral bending bites. The palate is more important in unilateral torsion-inducing biting. Two basic principles of archosaur cranial construction can be derived from these simple models: (1) forms with a fenestra are suboptimally constructed with respect to biting, and (2) the presence or absence of a palate is significant to cranial integrity in unilaterally biting animals. Extrapolating these results to archosaur cranial evolution, it appears that if mechanical optimization were the only criterion on which skull form is based, then most archosaurs could in theory strengthen their skulls to increase resistance to biting forces. These strengthened morphotypes are generally not observed in the fossil record, however, and therefore archosaurs appear subject to various non-mechanical morphological constraints. Carnivorous theropod dinosaurs, for example, may retain large suboptimal fenestra despite generating large bite forces, owing to an interplay between craniofacial ossification and pneumatization. Furthermore, living crocodylians appear to strengthen their skull with a palate and filled fenestral opening in the most efficient way possible, despite being constrained perhaps by hydrodynamic factors to the weaker platyrostral morphotype. The future challenge is to ascertain whether these simple predictions are maintained when the biomechanics of complex cranial geometries are explored in more detail.
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