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Costs of carnivory: tooth fracture in Pleistocene and Recent carnivorans

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Large, carnivorous mammals often break their teeth, probably as a result of tooth to bone contact that occurs when carcasses are consumed more fully, a behaviour likely to occur under conditions of food stress. Recent studies of Pleistocene predators revealed high numbers of teeth broken in life, suggesting that carcass utilization and, consequently, food competition was more intense in the past than at present. However, the putative association between diet and tooth fracture frequency was based on a small sample of large, highly carnivorous species. In the present study, a greater diversity of extant carnivorans is sampled, including insectivorous, omnivorous, and carnivorous forms, ranging in size from weasels to tigers. Species that habitually consume hard foods (bones, shells) had the highest fracture frequencies, followed by carnivores, and then insectivorous and/or omnivorous species. Predator and prey sizes were not associated with tooth fracture frequency, but more aggressive species did break their teeth more often. Comparison of the modern sample with five Pleistocene species confirms the previous finding of higher tooth breakage in the past, although some extant species have fracture frequencies that approach those of extinct species. Thus, the Pleistocene predator guild appears to have been characterized by relatively high levels of competition that are rarely observed today. © 2009 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2009, 96, 68–81.

Keywords: Carnivora; diet; feeding behaviour; paleoecology; skeletal injury

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2009


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