Comparing Dirichlet normal surface energy of tooth crowns, a new technique of molar shape quantification for dietary inference, with previous methods in isolation and in combination

Jonathan M. Bunn, Doug M. Boyer, Yaron Lipman, Elizabeth M. St. Clair, Jukka Jernvall, Ingrid Daubechies

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Inferred dietary preference is a major component of paleoecologies of extinct primates. Molar occlusal shape correlates with diet in living mammals, so teeth are a potentially useful structure from which to reconstruct diet in extinct taxa. We assess the efficacy of Dirichlet normal energy (DNE) calculated for molar tooth surfaces for reflecting diet. We evaluate DNE, which uses changes in normal vectors to characterize curvature, by directly comparing this metric to metrics previously used in dietary inference. We also test whether combining methods improves diet reconstructions. The study sample consisted of 146 lower (mandibular) second molars belonging to 24 euarchontan taxa. Five shape quantification metrics were calculated on each molar: DNE, shearing quotient, shearing ratio, relief index, and orientation patch count rotated (OPCR). Statistical analyses were completed for each variable to assess effects of taxon and diet. Discriminant function analysis was used to assess ability of combinations of variables to predict diet. Values differ significantly by diets for all variables, although shearing ratios and OPCR do not distinguish statistically between insectivores and folivores or omnivores and frugivores. Combined analyses were much more effective at predicting diet than any metric alone. Alone, relief index and DNE were most effective at predicting diet. OPCR was the least effective alone but is still valuable as the only quantitative measure of surface complexity. Of all methods considered, DNE was the least methodologically sensitive, and its effectiveness suggests it will be a valuable tool for dietary reconstruction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)247-261
Number of pages15
JournalAmerican journal of physical anthropology
Volume145
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 1 2011
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • dental topography
  • orientation patch count
  • primates
  • relief index
  • shearing quotient

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Anthropology

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