Send to

Choose Destination
PLoS One. 2010 Mar 4;5(3):e9542. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0009542.

Can dental microwear textures record inter-individual dietary variations?

Author information

UMR CNRS 5125, Paléoenvironnements et Paléobiosphère, Campus de La Doua, Université Claude Bernard Lyon-1, Villeurbanne, France.



Dental microwear analyses are commonly used to deduce the diet of extinct mammals. Conventional methods rely on the user identifying features within a 2D image. However, recent interdisciplinary research has lead to the development of an advanced methodology that is free of observer error, based on the automated quantification of 3D surfaces by combining confocal microscopy with scale-sensitive fractal analysis. This method has already proved to be very efficient in detecting dietary differences between species. Focusing on a finer, intra-specific scale of analysis, the aim of this study is to test this method's ability to track such differences between individuals from a single population.


For the purposes of this study, the 3D molar microwear of 78 individuals from a well-known population of extant roe deer (Capreolus caprelous) is quantified. Multivariate statistical analyses indicate significant seasonal and sexual differences in individual dental microwear design. These are probably the consequence of seasonal variations in fruit, seed and leaf availability, as well as differences in feeding preference between males and females due to distinct energy requirements during periods of rutting, gestation or giving birth. Nevertheless, further investigations using two-block Partial Least-Squares analysis show no strong relationship between individual stomach contents and microwear texture. This is an expected result, assuming that stomach contents are composed of food items ingested during the last few hours whereas dental microwear texture records the physical properties of items eaten over periods of days or weeks.


Microwear 3D scale-sensitive fractal analysis does detect differences in diet ranging from the inter-feeding styles scale to the intra-population between-season and between-sex scales. It is therefore a possible tool, to be used with caution, in the further exploration of the feeding biology and ecology of extinct mammals.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Public Library of Science Icon for PubMed Central
Loading ...
Support Center