ABSTRACT

Dental microwear texture analysis (DMTA) is widely used for diet inferences in extant and extinct vertebrates. Often, a reference tooth position is analysed in extant specimens, while isolated teeth are lumped together in fossil datasets. It is therefore important to test whether dental microwear texture (DMT) is tooth position specific and, if so, what causes the differences in wear. Here, we present results from controlled feeding experiments with 72 guinea pigs, which received either fresh or dried natural plant diets of different phytolith content (lucerne, grass, bamboo) or pelleted diets with and without mineral abrasives (frequently encountered by herbivorous mammals in natural habitats). We tested for gradients in dental microwear texture along the upper cheek tooth row. Regardless of abrasive content, guinea pigs on pelleted diets displayed an increase in surface roughness along the tooth row, indicating that posterior tooth positions experience more wear compared with anterior teeth. Guinea pigs feedings on plants of low phytolith content and low abrasiveness (fresh and dry lucerne, fresh grass) showed almost no DMT differences between tooth positions, while individuals feeding on more abrasive plants (dry grass, fresh and dry bamboo) showed a gradient of decreasing surface roughness along the tooth row. We suggest that plant feeding involves continuous intake and comminution by grinding, resulting in posterior tooth positions mainly processing food already partly comminuted and moistened. Pelleted diets require crushing, which exerts higher loads, especially on posterior tooth positions, where bite forces are highest. These differences in chewing behaviour result in opposing wear gradients for plant versus pelleted diets.

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