Direct Comparisons of 2D and 3D Dental Microwear Proxies in Extant Herbivorous and Carnivorous Mammals
The analysis of dental microwear is commonly used by paleontologists and anthropologists to clarify the diets of extinct species, including herbivorous and carnivorous mammals. Currently, there are numerous methods employed to quantify dental microwear, varying in the types of microscopes used, magnifications, and the characterization of wear in both two dimensions and three dimensions. Results from dental microwear studies utilizing different methods are not directly comparable and human quantification of wear features (e.g., pits and scratches) introduces interobserver error, with higher error being produced by less experienced individuals. Dental microwear texture analysis (DMTA), which analyzes microwear features in three dimensions, alleviates some of the problems surrounding two-dimensional microwear methods by reducing observer bias. Here, we assess the accuracy and comparability within and between 2D and 3D dental microwear analyses in herbivorous and carnivorous mammals at the same magnification. Specifically, we compare observer-generated 2D microwear data from photosimulations of the identical scanned areas of DMTA in extant African bovids and carnivorans using a scanning white light confocal microscope at 100x magnification. Using this magnification, dental microwear features quantified in 2D were able to separate grazing and frugivorous bovids using scratch frequency; however, DMTA variables were better able to discriminate between disparate dietary niches in both carnivorous and herbivorous mammals. Further, results demonstrate significant interobserver differences in 2D microwear data, with the microwear index remaining the least variable between experienced observers, consistent with prior research. Overall, our results highlight the importance of reducing observer error and analyzing dental microwear in three dimensions in order to consistently interpret diets accurately.
DeSantis, Larisa R.G.; Scott, Jessica R.; Schubert, Blaine W.; Donohue, Shelly L.; McCray, Brian M.; Van Stolk, Courtney A.; Winburn, Amanda A.; Greshko, Michael A.; and O'Hara, Mackie C.. 2013. Direct Comparisons of 2D and 3D Dental Microwear Proxies in Extant Herbivorous and Carnivorous Mammals. PLoS ONE. Vol.8(8). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0071428 PMID: 23936506