A Comparative Test of Adaptive Explanations for Hypsodonty in Ungulates and Rodents

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Hypsodonty has long been recognized as an adaptation for grazing: grazing is suggested to increase tooth wear due to endogenous (e.g., fiber, silica) and/or exogenous (e.g., dust, grit) properties of ingested food. However, it is unknown whether tooth crown height is correlated with the mastication of high fiber or silica in grasses, the ingestion of external abrasives, or both. Furthermore, comparative studies of hypsodonty have not explicitly taken into account phylogenetic biases due to shared ancestry in tooth morphology and/or feeding behavior. This study highlights the relationship between molar crown height and feeding habits in African ungulates and South American rodents when phylogenetic effects are controlled. Among ungulates, high hypsodonty indices are significantly associated with specific plant and foraging height preferences, while habitat and climate show no correlation with tooth crown height. For rodents, grass-eating species are significantly more hypsodont than frugivorous or folivorous species, and arboreal rodents are less hypsodont than terrestrial species. These results as well as those of a posteriori analyses controlling for aspects of the behavioral ecology (e.g., grass-eating, substrate preference) of the sample species confirm the role of both diet and grit in shaping the evolution of cheek tooth crown height in herbivorous mammals.

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