Occlusal Enamel Complexity and Its Implications for Lophodonty, Hypsodony, Body Mass, and Diet in Extinct and Extant Ungulates

TitleOcclusal Enamel Complexity and Its Implications for Lophodonty, Hypsodony, Body Mass, and Diet in Extinct and Extant Ungulates
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2013
AuthorsFamoso, NA, Feranec, RS, Davis, EB
JournalPalaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology
KeywordsArtiodactyla, Enamel complexity, Equidae, Isometry, Mammal, Teeth

Tooth morphology and rates of wear have strong controls on how well mammals survive in their habitats. Herbivorous mammals, specifically ungulates, combat the effects of wear through a combination of changing the occlusal (chewing surface) enamel length, and changing hypsodonty (relative height of tooth). Changes in these two attributes are most notably seen in the fossil record of ungulates as they adapted to living in cooler, drier, and more open habitats. We expect enamel length and hypsodonty to be greater in ungulate taxa that feed on grasses than in non-grass feeders. We tested this hypothesis by digitally photographing 213 maxillary tooth rows from 84 species of extinct and extant ungulates (n = 1083 teeth) and measuring their occlusal enamel length and true occlusal area. We then statistically compared the influences of taxonomy, feeding strategy, tooth position, and tooth area on both hypsodonty and occlusal enamel length using principal components analysis (PCA) and a nested multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA). The results of our PCA indicated a strong correlation between enamel length and tooth area, but little correlation of either with hypsodonty. Our nested MANOVA showed that tooth position had no significant relationship with hypsodonty (p = 0.1539), while all other factors were significant for both hypsodonty and occlusal enamel length. Our results suggest that the occlusal enamel length in ungulate teeth is constrained by both the size of the tooth (and, by proxy, the mass of the individual) and diet. Absolute tooth crown height is similarly affected by a combination of body size and diet, leading to the use of a ratio, hypsodonty index, to characterize the diet component. We propose a similar ratio, the occlusal enamel index (OEI) which reduces the effect of body mass to clearly indicate the component of enamel length determined by abrasiveness of ingested material.