New dental scoring scheme gives insights into Kenyan wildlife

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New dental scoring scheme gives insights into Kenyan wildlife

Martin Kiriinya, Yoland Savriama, Indrė Žliobaitė, Bob Raynolds and Janina Rannikko (from left to right) examining the fossil record of mammals in a field near Sibiloi National Park in northern Kenya. (Photograph: Mikael Fortelius)
Dental Tribune International

Dental Tribune International

四. 24 十一月 2016


HELSINKI, Finland: Using a new dental classification scheme, researchers from Finland have gained insights into how Kenyan wildlife species adapted their diet to climatic and environmental limits, such as periods of extreme drought. The results thus far confirm previous assumptions that animals’ teeth are not primarily shaped by the food they regularly eat, but by the food they are forced to eat in order to survive during harsh times.

In the study, the researchers examined teeth from 63 species of large herbivore mammals, including giraffes, monkeys, zebras and hippopotamuses, from 13 national parks throughout Kenya. With the Functional Crown Types (FCT) dental scoring scheme, they assessed tooth characteristics, such as hypsodonty (height of the cheek teeth), horizodonty (size of the teeth in the horizontal dimension), and the presence and shape of lophs—elongated ridges on the tooth surface—and dental cusps.

“The environment dictates the vegetation growth and herbivores are the primary users of this growth. In order to be able to make use of what grows there, they have to have specific dental traits,” explained lead author Dr Indrė Žliobaitė from the Department of Geosciences and Geography at the University of Helsinki.

Analysing the durability, strength and cutting power of the animals’ teeth with the FTC, the research team could draw conclusions about the living conditions and climatic parameters throughout Kenya, such as temperature, precipitation, and the amount and type of vegetation available.

The analysis showed that the drier it was, the more the animals had to rely on vegetation that was tougher to chew. “There are several factors, but basically the less it rains, the more the worn teeth become,” explained co-author Dr Mikael Fortelius, Professor of Evolutionary Palaeontology in the department.

According to Fortelius, this is the first time that it has been possible to link dental traits to climatic and environmental conditions so accurately. In the future, the scoring scheme may help anthropologists and archaeologists understand how animals lived and died in the past. Furthermore, the FCT could be a useful tool for wildlife conservation efforts, for example in predicting potential responses of species to anticipated climatic changes. However, in order to do that, the technique needs to be tested on a larger scale and across a broader range of environments, the researchers emphasised.

The study, titled “Herbivore teeth predict climatic limits in Kenyan ecosystems”, was published in the 8 November issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

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