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Fabricational noise in elephant dentitions

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 April 2016

V. Louise Roth*
Department of Zoology, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina 27706


A marked retardation of dental ontogeny characterizes the family Elephantidae. As a consequence of this retardation, elephant teeth are subject to the forces of mastication, eruption, and progression while still in a developing and pliant stage. As specimens described here illustrate, the mechanical forces are often sufficient to deform the gross morphology of dentitions. Morphological variation in elephant teeth can be regarded as “fabricational noise”—revealing information about the dynamic context in which the teeth develop. Accordingly, dental variation is less species-specific in elephants than in other mammals. The fossil record may comprise fewer species of elephants than is generally believed, and trends inferred to reflect rapid evolution within this family may in fact reflect phenotypic plasticity.

Copyright © The Paleontological Society 

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