, Volume 20, Issue 3, pp 227-237
Date: 09 Nov 2012

Tooth Root Morphology in the Early Pliocene African Bear Agriotherium africanum (Mammalia, Carnivora, Ursidae) and its Implications for Feeding Ecology

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Tooth root surface areas serve as proxies for bite force potentials, and by extension, dietary specialization in extant carnivorans. Here, we investigate the feeding ecology of the extinct large-bodied ursid Agriotherium africanum, by comparing its root surface areas (reconstructed with the aid of computed tomography and three-dimensional image processing) and bite force estimates, with those of extant carnivorans. Results show that in absolute terms, canine and carnassial bite forces, as well as root surface areas were highest in A. africanum. However, when adjusted for skull size, A. africanum’s canine roots were smaller than those of extant solitary predators. With teeth being the limiting factor in the masticatory system, low canine root surface areas suggest that A. africanum would have struggled to bring down large vertebrate prey. Its adjusted carnassial root sizes were found to be smaller than those of extant hard object feeders and the most carnivorous tough object feeders, but larger than those of extant omnivorous ursids and Ursus maritimus. This and the fact that it displayed its highest postcanine root surface areas in the carnassial region (rather than the most distal tooth in the tooth row) suggest that A. africanum consumed more vertebrate tissue than extant omnivorous ursids. With an apparent inability to routinely bring down large prey or to consume mechanically demanding skeletal elements, its focus was most likely on tough tissue, which it acquired by actively scavenging the carcasses of freshly dead/freshly killed animals. Mechanically less demanding skeletal elements would have been a secondary food source, ingested and processed mainly in association with muscle and connective tissue.