Ontogeny & Morphology

Ontogeny & Functional Morphology of the Feeding Complex

Ontogeny refers to how an individual will change over the course of a lifetime.

Functional morphology refers to the relationship between the structure of a tissue and how it is used.

What we eat and how we eat it influences the size, shape, and performance of the bones and muscles of the head. The material properties of our diet influence both the immediate aspects of feeding (food processing, muscle force, tooth interactions) as well as long-term aspects of our musculoskeletal biology. Our diet also changes as we age – for example, the foods given to young children are often easy to eat in order to accommodate their developing teeth, jaws, and musculature.

The research conducted in the Menegaz lab asks what level of biomechanical loading during feeding is necessary for the normal development of the masticatory apparatus. If our diet is too easy to consume, does this under-exercise our jaws and lead to underdeveloped structures? If our diet is too difficult, does this over-exercise our jaws leading to age-related degradative changes?

This work also investigates the effect of dietary variability on craniomandibular morphology. How important is the childhood/juvenile diet for determining adult morphology? How do muscle and bone respond to these changes in diet? From an ecological perspective, how do seasonal changes in diet (e.g. fallback foods) affect morphology and diversity in mammalian species?

Learn about how we answer these questions on our research methods page.