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The ecomorphology of southern African rodent incisors: Potential applications to the hominin fossil record

By Oliver C.C. Paine, Jennifer N. Leichliter, Nico Avenant, Daryl Codron, Austin Lawrence, Matt Sponheimer

Posted 27 Sep 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/429365 (published DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0205476)

The taxonomic identification of mammalian fauna within fossil assemblages is a well-established component of paleoenvironmental reconstructions. However, many fragmentary specimens recovered from fossil sites are often disregarded as they can be difficult to identify with the precision required for taxonomic methods. For this reason, the large numbers of isolated rodent incisors that are often recovered from hominin fossil bearing sites have generally been seen as offering little interpretive value. Ecomorphological analysis, often referred to as a “taxon-free” method, can potentially circumvent this problem by focusing on the adaptive, rather than the taxonomic significance of rodent incisor morphology. Here, we determine if the morphology of the upper incisors of modern southern African rodents reflects dietary behavior using discriminant function analysis. Our model suggests that a strong ecomorphological signal exists in our modern sample and we apply these results to two samples of isolated incisors from the hominin fossil bearing sites, Sterkfontein and Swartkrans.

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