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Enamel ridge alignment in upper molars of ruminants in relation to their natural diet


  • Editor: Andrew Kitchener

Thomas M. Kaiser, Biocentre Grindel Biology, Martin-Luther-King-Platz 3, Hamburg 20146, Germany.


Although it is generally thought that dental design reflects mechanical adaptations to particular diets, concrete concepts of such adaptations beyond the evolution of hypsodonty are largely missing. We investigated the alignment of enamel ridges in the occlusal molar surface of 37 ruminant species and tested for correlations with the percentage of grass in the natural diet. Independent of phylogenetic lineage, species that were either larger and/or included more grass in their natural diet showed a higher proportion of enamel ridges aligned at low angles to the direction of the chewing stroke. Possible explanations for this design are a potential alignment of grass blades in parallel to the molar tooth row, a potential increased proportion of a propalinal (anterior–posterior) chewing movement in grazers as opposed to a strictly transversal chewing stroke in browsers and the general distribution of forces along the occlusal surface during the chewing stroke. The latter will be less heterogenous (with less force peaks) with an increasing proportion of low-angle enamel ridges. While the validity of these explanations will have to be tested in further studies, the enamel ridge alignment represents a clear signal that deviates from an arbitrary distribution and hence most likely represents a functional adaptation.