Dietary inference from upper and lower molar morphology in platyrrhine primates

Kari L. Allen, Siobhán B. Cooke, Lauren A. Gonzales, Richard F. Kay

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

The correlation between diet and dental topography is of importance to paleontologists seeking to diagnose ecological adaptations in extinct taxa. Although the subject is well represented in the literature, few studies directly compare methods or evaluate dietary signals conveyed by both upper and lower molars. Here, we address this gap in our knowledge by comparing the efficacy of three measures of functional morphology for classifying an ecologically diverse sample of thirteen medium- to large-bodied platyrrhines by diet category (e.g., folivore, frugivore, hard object feeder). We used Shearing Quotient (SQ), an index derived from linear measurements of molar cutting edges and two indices of crown surface topography, Occlusal Relief (OR) and Relief Index (RFI). Using SQ, OR, and RFI, individuals were then classified by dietary category using Discriminate Function Analysis. Both upper and lower molar variables produce high classification rates in assigning individuals to diet categories, but lower molars are consistently more successful. SQs yield the highest classification rates. RFI and OR generally perform above chance. Upper molar RFI has a success rate below the level of chance. Adding molar length enhances the discriminatory power for all variables. We conclude that upper molar SQs are useful for dietary reconstruction, especially when combined with body size information. Additionally, we find that among our sample of platyrrhines, SQ remains the strongest predictor of diet, while RFI is less useful at signaling dietary differences in absence of body size information. The study demonstrates new ways for inferring the diets of extinct platyrrhine primates when both upper and lower molars are available, or, for taxa known only from upper molars. The techniques are useful in reconstructing diet in stem representatives of anthropoid clade, who share key aspects of molar morphology with extant platyrrhines.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0118732
JournalPloS one
Volume10
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 4 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General

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