The extent to which elements of functional systems can change independently (modularity) likely influences the diversification of lineages. Major innovations in organismal design, like the pharyngeal jaw in cichlid fishes, may be key to a group's success when they relax constraints on diversification by increasing phenotypic modularity. In cichlid fishes, pharyngeal jaw modifications that enhanced the ability to breakdown prey may have freed their oral jaws from serving their ancestral dual role as a site of both prey capture and prey processing. This functional decoupling that allowed the oral jaws to become devoted solely to prey capture has been hypothesized to have permitted the two sets of cichlid jaws to evolve independently. We tested the hypothesis that oral and pharyngeal jaw mechanics are evolutionarily decoupled both within and among Neotropical Heroine cichlids. In the trophically polymorphic species Herichthys minckleyi, molariforms that exhibit enlarged molarlike pharyngeal jaw teeth were found to have approximately 400% greater lower jaw mass compared to H. minckleyi with the alternative papilliform pharyngeal morphology. However, oral jaw gape, lower jaw velocity ratios, anterior jaw linkage mechanics, and jaw protrusion did not differ between the morphotypes. In 40 other Heroine species, there was a weak correlation between oral jaw mechanics and pharyngeal jaw mass when phylogenetic history was ignored. Yet, after expansion of the cytochrome b phylogeny for Heroines, change in oral jaw mechanics was found to be independent of evolutionary change in pharyngeal jaw mass based on independent contrasts. Evolutionary decoupling of oral and pharyngeal jaw mechanics has likely played a critical role in the unparalleled trophic diversification of cichlid fishes.
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Vol. 60 • No. 10