The ecology and evolution of tooth wear in red deer and moose


  • Vebjørn Veiberg,

  • Leif Egil Loe,

  • Atle Mysterud,

  • Erling J. Solberg,

  • Rolf Langvatn,

  • Nils Chr. Stenseth

V. Veiberg, Dept of Arctic Biology, Univ. Centre in Svalbard, PB 156, NO-9171 Longyearbyen, Norway. – VV, L. E. Loe, A. Mysterud ( and N. Chr. Stenseth, Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis, Dept of Biology, Univ. of Oslo, PO Box 1066 Blindern, NO-0316 Oslo, Norway. – E. J. Solberg and R. Langvatn, Norwegian Inst. for Nature Research, Tungasletta 2, NO-7485 Trondheim, Norway.


Differences in body size and diet type (browser–grazer continuum) have formed functional traits of ruminants, including tooth design. Grazers and mixed-feeders eat a more fibrous diet than browsers, which arguably increase tooth wear. Tooth wear has also been suggested to increase with body size. Moreover, for species with large distribution ranges, different populations may be exposed to very different ecological factors affecting diet and thus tooth wear rates. Therefore, evolutionary history and contemporary ecological conditions, both operating through diet, may be important for patterns of tooth wear. Here, we compare inter- and intraspecific rates of tooth wear in multiple populations of one large browser (moose Alces alces) and one mixed-feeder (red deer Cervus elaphus) covering the main distribution range of each species in Norway. We found that the mixed-feeding red deer wore teeth faster than the larger and browsing moose, suggesting that feeding-type was more important than body size for patterns of wear. There was substantial spatial variation in tooth wear rates, but the inter-specific difference in wear was consistent. Molar wear rates, but not incisors wear rates, in the browser were less variable between populations than in the mixed-feeder. There was no close link between incisor and molar wear rates at the population level. Our findings are consistent with the view that both evolution related to diet type and current ecological conditions (being proxies for within-species variation in diet quality) are important for patterns of tooth wear.