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A preliminary analysis of dental microwear as a proxy for diet and habitat in shrews

Charles B. Withnell1 / 2

1Institute for Human Origins, Arizona State University, 300 University Drive, Suite 145, Tempe, AZ 85287, USA

2Department of Anthropology, University of Arkansas, Old Main 330, Fayetteville, AR 72701, USA

Corresponding author: Peter S. Ungar, Department of Anthropology, University of Arkansas, Old Main 330, Fayetteville, AR 72701, USA, e-mail:

Citation Information: Mammalia. Volume 78, Issue 3, Pages 409–415, ISSN (Online) 1864-1547, ISSN (Print) 0025-1461, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/mammalia-2013-0121, January 2014

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Dental microwear has been shown to reflect diet in a broad variety of fossil mammals. Recent studies have suggested that differences in microwear texture attributes between samples may also reflect environmental abrasive loads. Here, we examine dental microwear textures on the incisors of shrews, both to evaluate this idea and to expand the extant baseline to include Soricidae. Specimens were chosen to sample a broad range of environments, semi-desert to rainforest. Species examined were all largely insectivorous, but some are reported to supplement their diets with vertebrate tissues and others with plant matter. Results indicate subtle but significant differences between samples grouped by both diet independent of environment and environment independent of diet. Subtle diet differences were more evident in microwear texture variation considered by habitat (i.e., grassland). These results suggest that while environment does not swamp the diet signal in shrew incisor microwear, studies can benefit from control of habitat type.

Keywords: incisors; Soricidae; tooth wear

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