Dental morphology and variation in theropod dinosaurs: Implications for the taxonomic identification of isolated teeth

Authors

  • Joshua B. Smith,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Earth and Environmental Science, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
    • Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Washington University, 1 Brookings Drive, Campus Box 1169, St. Louis, MO 63130
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    • Fax: 314-935-7361

  • David R. Vann,

    1. Department of Earth and Environmental Science, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
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  • Peter Dodson

    1. Department of Earth and Environmental Science, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
    2. Department of Animal Biology, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania
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Abstract

Isolated theropod teeth are common Mesozoic fossils and would be an important data source for paleoecology biogeography if they could be reliably identified as having come from particular taxa. However, obtaining identifications is confounded by a paucity of easily identifiable characters. Here we discuss a quantitative methodology designed to provide defensible identifications of isolated teeth using Tyrannosaurus as a comparison taxon. We created a standard data set based as much as possible on teeth of known taxonomic affinity against which to compare isolated crowns. Tooth morphology was described using measured variables describing crown length, base length and width, and derived variables related to basal shape, squatness, mesial curve shape, apex location with respect to base, and denticle size. Crown curves were described by fitting the power function Y = a + bX0.5 to coordinate data collected from lateral-view images of mesial curve profiles. The b value from these analyses provides a measure of curvature. Discriminant analyses compared isolated teeth of various taxonomic affinities against the standard. The analyses classified known Tyrannosaurus teeth with Tyrannosaurus and separated most teeth known not to be Tyrannosaurus from Tyrannosaurus. They had trouble correctly classifying teeth that were very similar to Tyrannosaurus and for which there were few data in the standard. However, the results indicate that expanding the standard should facilitate the identification of numerous types of isolated theropod teeth. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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