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Better sturdy or slender? Eurasian otter skull plasticity in response to feeding ecology

Russo, Luca Francesco, Meloro, Carlo, De Silvestri, Mara, Chadwick, Elizabeth A. ORCID: and Loy, Anna 2022. Better sturdy or slender? Eurasian otter skull plasticity in response to feeding ecology. PLoS ONE 17 (9) , e0274893. 10.1371/journal.pone.0274893

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Otters are semi-aquatic mammals specialized in feeding on aquatic prey. The Eurasian otter Lutra lutra is the most widely distributed otter species. Despite a low degree of genetic variation across its European range, the population from Great Britain exhibits distinct genetic structuring. We examined 43 skulls of adult Eurasian otters belonging to 18 sampling localities and three genetic clusters (Shetlands, Wales and Scotland). For each sample location, information regarding climate was described using bioclimatic variables from WorldClim, and information on otter diet was extracted from the literature. By using photogrammetry, 3D models were obtained for each skull. To explore any evidence of adaptive divergence within these areas we used a three dimensional geometric morphometric approach to test differences in skull size and shape between areas with genetically distinct populations, as well as the influence of diet, isolation by distance and climate. Males were significantly larger in skull size than females across all the three genetic clusters. Skull shape, but not size, appeared to differ significantly among genetic clusters, with otters from Shetland exhibiting wider zygomatic arches and longer snouts compared to otters from Wales, whereas otters from Scotland displayed intermediate traits. A significant relationship could also be found between skull shape variation, diet as well as climate. Specifically, otters feeding on freshwater fish had more slender and short-snouted skulls compared to otters feeding mostly on marine fish. Individuals living along the coast are characterised by a mixed feeding regime based on marine fish and crustaceans and their skull showed an intermediate shape. Coastal and island otters also had larger orbits and eyes more oriented toward the ground, a larger nasal cavity, and a larger distance between postorbital processes and zygomatic arch. These functional traits could also represent an adaptation to favour the duration and depth of diving, while the slender skull of freshwater feeding otters could improve the hydrodynamics.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Biosciences
Additional Information: License information from Publisher: LICENSE 1: URL:
Publisher: Public Library of Science
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 3 October 2022
Date of Acceptance: 6 September 2022
Last Modified: 04 May 2023 13:39

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