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Reconstructing dietary ecology of extinct strepsirrhines (Primates, Mammalia) with new approaches for characterizing and analyzing tooth shape

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 March 2021

Ethan L. Fulwood*
Department of Neuroscience, Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri63110, U.S.A.; and Department of Evolutionary Anthropology, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina27708, U.S.A. E-mail:
Shan Shan
Department of Mathematics, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina27708U.S.A.
Julia M. Winchester
Department of Evolutionary Anthropology, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina27708, U.S.A.
Tingran Gao
Department of Statistics, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois60637, U.S.A.
Henry Kirveslahti
Department of Statistical Science, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina27708, U.S.A.
Ingrid Daubechies
Department of Mathematics, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina27708U.S.A.
Doug M. Boyer
Department of Evolutionary Anthropology, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina27708, U.S.A.
*Corresponding author.


The morphological and ecological diversity of lemurs and lorisiformes once rivaled that of the rest of the primate order. Here, we assemble a dataset of 3D models representing the second mandibular molars of a wide range of extant and fossil strepsirrhines encompassing this diversity. We use these models to distill quantitative descriptors of tooth form and then analyze these data using new analytical methods. We employ a recently developed dental topography metric (ariaDNE), which is less sensitive to details of random error in 3D model quality than previously used metrics (e.g., DNE); Bayesian multinomial modeling with metrics designed to measure overfitting risk; and a tooth segmentation algorithm that allows the shapes of disaggregated tooth surface features to be quantified using dental topography metrics. This approach is successful at reclassifying extant strepsirrhine primates to known dietary ecology and indicates that the averaging of morphological information across the tooth surface does not interfere with the ability of dental topography metrics to predict dietary adaptation. When the most informative combination of dental topography metrics is applied to extinct species, many subfossil lemurs and the most basal fossil strepsirrhines are predicted to have been primarily frugivorous or gummivorous. This supports an ecological contraction among the extant lemurs and the importance of frugivory in the origins of crown Strepsirrhini, potentially to avoid competition with more insectivorous and folivorous members of Paleogene Afro-Arabian primate faunas.

Paleobiology , Volume 47 , Issue 4 , November 2021 , pp. 612 - 631
Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of The Paleontological Society

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Present address: Kentucky College of Osteopathic Medicine, Pikeville, Kentucky 41501, U.S.A.

Present address: Department of Mathematics and Statistics, Mt. Holyoke College, South Hadley, Massachusetts 01075, U.S.A.


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Reconstructing dietary ecology of extinct strepsirrhines (Primates, Mammalia) with new approaches for characterizing and analyzing tooth shape
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