, Volume 28, Issue 6, pp 765-773

Insights from stable light isotopes on enamel defects and weaning in Pliocene herbivores

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Abstract

A high prevalence of enamel hypoplasia in several herbivores from the early Pliocene Langebaanweg locality, South Africa, indicates general systemic stress during the growing years of life. The presence of several linear enamel hypoplasias per tooth crown in many teeth further suggest that these stress events may be episodic. The δ18O values along tooth crowns of mandibular second molars ofSivatherium hendeyi (Artiodactyla, Giraffidae) were used to investigate the cause of the stress events in this tooth type. Results show that weaning in this fossil giraffid occurred at a similar ontogenetic age to that in extant giraffes, and that the observed enamel hypoplasia towards the base of this tooth type manifested post-weaning. Further, high-resolution oxygen isotope analyses acrossS. hendeyi third molars suggest that the entire development of defective tooth crowns occurred under conditions of increased aridity in which the cool, rainy part of the seasonal cycle was missing. The high prevalence of this defect in many herbivores suggests that climatic conditions were not favourable. This study reiterates the value of stable isotope analyses in determining both the behaviour of fossil animals and the environmental conditions that prevailed during tooth development.