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The potential and pitfalls of using simple dental metrics to infer the diets of African antelopes (Mammalia: Bovidae)

Louys, Julien; Meloro, Carlo; Elton, Sarah; Ditchfield, Peter; Bishop, Laura C.

The potential and pitfalls of using simple dental metrics to infer the diets of African antelopes (Mammalia: Bovidae) Thumbnail


Julien Louys

Carlo Meloro

Peter Ditchfield

Laura C. Bishop


The use of mesowear to infer diets of extinct species is fast becoming widespread in palaeoecological studies. Nevertheless, traditional mesowear analyses suffer from a specimen number limitation, in that a minimum number of specimens identified to the species level is necessary to make accurate dietary predictions. This is problematic in many fossil African antelope (Mammalia: Bovidae) assemblages, where isolated teeth cannot always be assigned to species. Hereweexplore the possibility of using simple dental metrics to predict diets on the basis of individual teeth as well as gnathic rows using linear discriminant function analyses.We find that browsers are accurately classified at both the individual and species levels, across all models and tooth positions. Mixed feeders and grazers are classified accurately only sometimes, and this is probably a reflection of the more limited sample size of larger bodied species in our study. Body size was a highly significant predictor of the inaccurate classifications obtained in our models, with larger bodied species tending to grazing classifications and smaller bodied species browsing classifications. Nevertheless, the models correctly classify the majority of specimens we examined to their correct trophic group, as determined through stable isotope analyses or as defined through the literature. The methods outlined hold some promise for determining the diets of isolated fossil specimens unassigned to species in a simple manner and, when used in conjunction with other palaeodietary and palaeoecological proxies, may help determine palaeoenvironments more accurately.


Louys, J., Meloro, C., Elton, S., Ditchfield, P., & Bishop, L. C. (2015). The potential and pitfalls of using simple dental metrics to infer the diets of African antelopes (Mammalia: Bovidae). Palaeontologia africana, 49, 8-24

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Feb 6, 2015
Publication Date Apr 1, 2015
Deposit Date Nov 25, 2015
Publicly Available Date Nov 30, 2015
Journal Palaeontologia Africana : annals of the Bernard Price Institute for Palaeontological Research, University of the Witwatersrand.
Print ISSN 0078-8554
Publisher Evolutionary Studies Institute, University of the Witwatersrand
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 49
Pages 8-24
Keywords Mesowear, Palaeodiet, Palaeoecology, Tooth wear.
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Copyright Statement
© 2015 Evolutionary Studies Institute, University of the Witwatersrand. This is an open-access article published under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License (CC BY 3.0). This license permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. This item is permanently archived at:

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