Extant species of Muridae occupy a wide array of habitats and have diverse dietary habits. Consequently, their dental microwear patterns represent a potential clue to better understand the paleoecology of their extinct relatives, which are abundant in many Old World Neogene localities. In this study, dental microwear is investigated for specimens of 17 extant species of murine and deomyine rodents in order to test the reliability of this method and infer dietary preferences on the fossil species Saïdomys afarensis. This extinct form comes from a mid-Pliocene site (AL 327) located at the Hadar Formation (Ethiopia) known to have delivered many hominid specimens of Australopithecus afarensis. A significant correlation between microwear patterns and diet is detected. Thus, grass, fruit, and insect eaters display, respectively, high amounts of fine scratches, wide scratches, and large pits. Moreover, some aspects of the paleoecology of S. afarensis, including feeding habits, could be assessed in regard to its dental microwear pattern. Indeed, it probably had feeding habits similar to that of living grass eaters. These results concur with the presence of open to woodland areas covered by an herbaceous vegetal layer, including monocotyledons, in the vicinity of this mid-Pliocene locality.
Murid rodentsDental microwearPaleoecologySaïdomys afarensis
Supplementary material 2Pair-wise comparisons between living and fossil species through their dietary class. Significance at α = 0.05 is indicated in gray for Fisher’s LSD tests and in black for both LSD and HSD tests. (N fs—fine scratches, N ws—wide scratches, N sp—small pits, N lp—large pits) (DOC 92.5 KB)
Supplementary material 3Summary statistics of the dental microwear variables of the extant murid specimens and the fossil ones (N fs—number of fine scratches, N ws—wide scratches, N sp-small pits, N lp—large pits) (DOC 384 KB)