Tall Teeth and Grazing Diets – #365papers – 2017 – 94

#365papers for April 4, 2017

Feranec and Pagnac, 2017, Hypsodonty, horses, and the spread of C4 grasses during the middle Miocene in southern California: Evolutionary Ecology Research, v. 18, p. 201-223.

What’s it about?

Modern horses have very tall (hypsodont) teeth. This is thought to be an adaptation for grazing, because chewing grass wears down teeth faster than chewing the leaves off a tree.

A fossil horse tooth from Natural Trap Cave. The grinding surface is on the left. Only about 1/5 of this tooth stuck above the gum line.

Paleontologists use the height of the tooth (its hypsodonty) to distinguish animals that grazed from those that ate bushes, shrubs, and trees (called browsing).

Isotopically, grasses look different from leaves from bushes. This chemical difference gets recorded into teeth.

The authors use isotopes from early horses that are hypsodont to show that tall teeth are related to doing more grazing.

Why does it matter?

It’s important to test our assumptions once in a while. The assumption that hypsodont teeth belong to grazers is a big one. Here, the authors show that it is a good assumption.

Why did I read this?

Primarily, I read this because this is the exact kind of research that I do. I also read it because the authors are personal friends and I like to keep up with what my friends are working on.

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