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Comparing ungulate dietary proxies using discriminant function analysis



A variety of tooth-wear and morphological dietary proxies have been proposed for ungulates. In turn, they have been applied to fossil specimens with the purpose of reconstructing the diets of extinct taxa. Although these dietary proxies have been used in isolation and in combination, a consistent set of statistical analyses has never been applied to all of the available datasets. The purpose of this study is to determine how well the most commonly used dietary proxies classify ungulates as browsers, grazers, and mixed feeders individually and in combination. Discriminant function analysis is applied to individual dietary proxies (hypsodonty, mesowear, microwear, and several cranial dietary proxies) and to combinations thereof to compare rates of successful dietary classification. In general, the tooth-wear dietary proxies (mesowear and microwear) perform better than morphological dietary proxies, though none are strong proxies in isolation. The success rates of the cranial dietary proxies are not increased substantially when ruminants and bovids are analyzed separately, and significance among the three dietary guilds is reduced when controlling for phylogenetic relatedness. The combination of hypsodonty, mesowear, and microwear is found to have a high rate of successful dietary classification, but a combination of all commonly used proxies increases the success rate to 100%. In most cases, mixed feeders bear the greatest resemblance to browsers suggesting that a morphology intermediate to browsers and grazers may represent a fitness valley resulting from the inability to exploit both browse and graze efficiently. These results are important for future paleoecological studies and should be used as a guide for determining which dietary proxies are appropriate to the research question. J. Morphol., 2011. © 2011 Wiley-Liss, Inc.