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Diet, ecology, and dental morphology in terrestrial mammals

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posted on 2022-03-28, 19:18 authored by Silvia Pineda-Munoz
Dietary inferences are a key foundation for paleoecological, ecomorphological and macroevolutionary studies because they inform us about the direct relationships between the components of an ecosystem. Thus, the first part of my thesis involved creating a statistically based diet classification based on a literature compilation of stomach content data for 139 terrestrial mammals. I observed that diet is far more complex than a traditional herbivore-omnivore-carnivore classification, which masks important feeding specializations. To solve this problem I proposed a new classification scheme that emphasizes the primary resource in a given diet (Chapter 3). This new classification was then contrasted with body mass (Chapter 4). I observed that there is a specific optimum body mass range for every dietary specialization, with the medium size range mostly composed of frugivorous species that inhabit tropical and subtropical rainforests. Thus, the near absence of medium-sized mammals in open environments can be linked to the decreasing density of fruit trees needed to support a pure frugivorous diet all year round. I then evaluated previous dietary proxies and observed that a relevant time scale needs to be determined before choosing a dietary proxy (Chapter 5). The main goal of my PhD research was to design quantitative and phylogeny-free method to infer the typical diet of each species. I therefore designed Multi-Proxy Dental Morphology Analysis (MPDMA) (Chapter 6). I three dimensionally scanned thedentitions of 138 extant mammals (28 marsupials and 110 placentals) and qualitatively classified their diets. Multiple variables were estimated from the 3D scans (i.e.,orientation patch count, slope diversity, and relief index) and multivariate statistical analyses were used to test for discrimination power across dietary specializations (Chapter 7). MPDMA demonstrates significant morphological differences across diets (P < 0.05) and correctly discriminates diet for up to 82% of the specimens in the dataset. Most remarkably, marsupials and placentals with the same dietary specializations overlap strongly in ecomorphospace, which suggests convergent phenotypic evolution across both clades.


Table of Contents

1. Prologue -- 2. Introduction -- 3. Dietary classification of terrestrial mammals -- 4. The relationship between diet and body mass in terrestrial mammals -- 5. The temporal scale of diet and dietary proxies -- 6. Dental morphology predicts diet across marsupials and placentals -- 7. Dental morphology variability in relation to diet in terrestrial mammals -- 8. Conclusions -- 9. Future work -- 10. References -- 11. Appendices.


Theoretical thesis. Includes bibliographical references

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Science and Engineering, Department of Biological Sciences

Department, Centre or School

Department of Biological Sciences

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

John Alroy


Copyright Silvia Pineda-Munoz 2016. Copyright disclaimer:




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