Surfaces and spaces: Troubleshooting the study of dietary niche space overlap between North American stem primates and rodents

Kristen A. Prufrock, Sergi López-Torres, Mary T. Silcox, Doug M. Boyer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Dental topographic metrics provide quantitative, biologically meaningful data on the threedimensional (3D) form of teeth. In this study, three dental topographic metrics (Dirichlet normal energy (DNE), relief index (RFI), and orientation patch count rotated (OPCR)) are used to evaluate the presence of dietary niche overlap between North American plesiadapoid primates (Plesiadapidae, Carpolestidae, and Saxonellidae) and early rodents. Calculation of these metrics requires researchers to modify the 3D surface models of the teeth by cropping them to a region of interest and/or orienting them. The current study therefore also examines the error introduced by cropping and orientation, and evaluates the contribution of these metrics to the niche overlap hypothesis. Our results indicate that cropping creates significantly more variation in RFI than DNE. Furthermore, orientation is an even larger source of variation in the calculation of RFI than cropping. Orientation does not strongly influence OPCR values. However, none of these sources of error are significant enough to undermine the extent to which these metrics can speak to the niche overlap hypothesis. TheDNEand RFI results suggest that carpolestids and saxonellids had very different molar morphologies from early rodents, and thus these groups were not adapted to consume the same resources. Some plesiadapids show similar levels of occlusal curvature, relief, and complexity to early rodents. The plesiadapid Chiromyoides, which has distinctively low cusps and weak shearing crest development, has molars that are the most rodent-like of all taxa compared. This suggests that Chiromyoides had a dietary niche that overlapped with early rodents and would have been the most likely to be competing over food resources. Results from the plesiadapoid-rodent dental topographic analysis highlight the utility of DNEfor detecting more fine-scaled differences in occlusal surface morphology than OPCR, whereas RFI provided valuable data on the degree to which teeth were high crowned.

Original languageEnglish
Article number024005
JournalSurface Topography: Metrology and Properties
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2016


  • Cropping
  • Dental topography
  • Dietary inference
  • Orientation
  • Stem primates


Dive into the research topics of 'Surfaces and spaces: Troubleshooting the study of dietary niche space overlap between North American stem primates and rodents'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this