Dental microwear profilometry of African non-cercopithecoid catarrhines of the Early Miocene

Brian M. Shearer, Peter S. Ungar, Kieran P. McNulty, William E.H. Harcourt-Smith, Holly M. Dunsworth, Mark F. Teaford

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6 Scopus citations


The Early Miocene of Kenya has yielded the remains of many important stem catarrhine species that provide a glimpse of the East African primate radiation at a time of major faunal turnover. These taxa have been subject to innumerable studies, yet there is still no consensus on their dietary niches. Here we report results of an analysis of dental microwear textures of non-cercopithecoid catarrhines from the Early Miocene of Kenya. Scanning confocal profilometry of all available molar specimens with undamaged occlusal surfaces revealed 82 individuals with unobscured antemortem microwear, representing Dendropithecus, Micropithecus, Limnopithecus, Proconsul, and Rangwapithecus. Scale-sensitive fractal analysis was used to generate microwear texture attributes for each individual, and the fossil taxa were compared with each other using conservative non-parametric statistical tests. This study revealed no discernible variation in microwear texture among the fossil taxa, which is consistent with results from a previous feature-based microwear study using smaller samples. Our results suggest that, despite their morphological differences, these taxa likely often consumed foods with similar abrasive and fracture properties. However, statistical analyses of microwear texture data indicate differences between the Miocene fossil sample and several extant anthropoid primate genera. This suggests that the African non-cercopithecoid catarrhines included in our study, despite variations in tooth form, had generalist diets that were not yet specialized to the degree of many modern taxa.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)33-43
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Human Evolution
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was supported by the Leakey Foundation and NSF 0852515 and 0333415 .

Funding Information:
We would like to thank the National Museums of Kenya for access to fossil collections, the Rusinga Island Lodge, the American Museum of Natural History, the New York Consortium in Evolutionary Primatology (NYCEP), the University of Minnesota, the British Institute in Eastern Africa, the US National Science Foundation, and the Leakey Foundation for their continued support. We would also like to thank Salvatore Caporale, Blasto Onyango, and Miriam Belmaker for their assistance with various aspects of this project. Additional thanks to Sarah Elton, Chris Gilbert, Eric Delson, and two anonymous reviewers for greatly improving the quality of this manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 Elsevier Ltd.


  • Dendropithecus
  • Diet
  • Limnopithecus
  • Micropithecus
  • Proconsul
  • Rangwapithecus


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