Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Fossil teeth shows that environment, as well as diet, may impact dental wear

Date:
February 13, 2014
Source:
University of Arkansas, Fayetteville
Summary:
Researchers have established that pits and scratches on the teeth of mammal fossils give important clues to the diet of creatures that lived millions of years ago. A new study of dental microwear on shrews suggests that environment may impact teeth, as well.

Honors biological anthropology student Charles Withnell used dental impression material to make casts of about 300 tiny shrew incisors. He found few microwear differences between species with differing diets and habitats.
Credit: Image courtesy of University of Arkansas, Fayetteville

Researchers at the University of Arkansas have established that pits and scratches on the teeth of mammal fossils give important clues to the diet of creatures that lived millions of years ago. A new study of dental microwear on shrews suggests that environment may impact teeth, as well.

The research results appear in the February 2014 issue of Mammalia. This is the first study to focus on dental microwear in shrews, which are small mouse-like mammals. The study was coauthored by Charles Withnell, a 2013 graduate of the University of Arkansas, and his honors faculty mentor Peter Ungar, Distinguished Professor and chair of the anthropology department,

Ungar described the finding as an "interesting and unexpected result" that may, with further study, help researchers isolate signs of environmental wear on teeth and changes in environmental wear over time.

"If we see differences in environmental wear on the teeth of animals, we can use that information to say something about the environment of our distant ancestors," Ungar said. "And that becomes important because human evolution is related to changes in the environment, and this has the potential to help us learn more about human evolution and what caused it."

"We chose shrews because their diet is fairly uniform and they're low to the ground, so they're coming into contact with soils," Withnell said. "They seemed like good candidates for determining how much grit load impacts microwear."

Withnell and Ungar traveled to the National Museum of Natural History in the Smithsonian Museum system in Washington, D.C., where they painstakingly collected dental casts of 300 tiny shrew incisors (an entire jaw of a shrew will fit on a dime with room to spare). Their sample, winnowed to 133 specimens, drew from nine shrew species whose habitat ranged from desert to rainforest and whose diets varied slightly, with some species supplementing the staple of insects with plant matter and vertebrate tissues.

Upon close examination under a microscope, Withnell found few microwear differences between species with differing diets and habitats. He did, however, find subtle variation in dietary microwear when he focused on three species in the grassland habitat.

"The fact that you can't separate as well on the basis of diet without controlling for environment is important -- that tells us that the environment plays a role, that it's adding noise to the system," Ungar said.

The U.S. National Science Foundation and the University of Arkansas Honors College provided grant funding for the project.

Future studies that focus on dental microwear among different species of shrews in another habitat, such as forests, may help in isolating the environmental impact on teeth, Withnell said. Ungar is moving forward with several honors students on different permutations of Withnell's work, including an exploration of dental wear in rodents.

"There are lots of routes forward," Ungar said. "The question is, how far can we take this technology, and what can it help us understand at the finest level? We know that diet effects tooth wear; what else does?"


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Charles B. Withnell, Peter S. Ungar. A preliminary analysis of dental microwear as a proxy for diet and habitat in shrews. Mammalia, 2014; 0 (0): 1 DOI: 10.1515/mammalia-2013-0121

Cite This Page:

University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. "Fossil teeth shows that environment, as well as diet, may impact dental wear." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 February 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140213095054.htm>.
University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. (2014, February 13). Fossil teeth shows that environment, as well as diet, may impact dental wear. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 2, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140213095054.htm
University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. "Fossil teeth shows that environment, as well as diet, may impact dental wear." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140213095054.htm (accessed August 2, 2014).

Share This




More Fossils & Ruins News

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Rare Whale Fossil Pulled from Calif. Backyard

Rare Whale Fossil Pulled from Calif. Backyard

AP (Aug. 1, 2014) A rare whale fossil has been pulled from a Southern California backyard. The 16- to 17-million-year-old baleen whale fossil is one of about 20 baleen whale fossils known to exist. (Aug. 1) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Where Did The World Trade Center Shipwreck Come From?

Where Did The World Trade Center Shipwreck Come From?

Newsy (July 31, 2014) Scientists say a ship remnant discovered underneath Ground Zero dates back to the 18th century. Why it sank is still uncertain. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Rodents Rampant in Gardens Around Louvre

Rodents Rampant in Gardens Around Louvre

AP (July 29, 2014) Food scraps and other items left on the grounds by picnickers brings unwelcome visitors to the grounds of the world famous and popular Louvre Museum in Paris. (July 29) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
London's Famed 'Gherkin' Goes on Sale for 650 Mln

London's Famed 'Gherkin' Goes on Sale for 650 Mln

AFP (July 29, 2014) London's "Gherkin" office tower, one of the landmarks on the British capital's skyline, went on sale for about 650 million ($1.1 billion, 820 million euros) on Tuesday after being placed into receivership. Duration: 00:36 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins