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Dietary characterization of the hominoid Khoratpithecus (Miocene of Thailand): evidence from dental topographic and microwear texture analyses

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The genus Khoratpithecus, a hominoid thought to be related to the orangutan lineage, is represented by two known fossil species K. chiangmuanensis and K. piriyai. Both were discovered in Southeast Asia (Thailand) and are dated to the Middle and Late Miocene, respectively. In this study, dental topographic and microwear texture analyses were used to examine molars from both of these species, with the goal of understanding their dietary preferences. Although sample sizes are small for Khoratpithecus, available data are compared to that collected for extant apes. Environmental evidence, such as botanical remains and sedimentological data, is also considered for comparisons with dietary reconstruction. Results from dental topographic analysis suggest that the two fossil species were better adapted to a diet of fruits than to one of leaves, much like the living orangutan or chimpanzee. Results from microwear texture analysis further support this, suggesting that Khoratpithecus preferred soft fruits to hard fruits or seeds. And finally, the botanical and sedimentological evidence point to environments for Khoratpithecus that would have been compatible with a fruit-eating species. Given the small sample sizes available for analysis, however, definitive judgments are not yet possible at this time.

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We are grateful to the curators at the NMNH (New York, USA) and the SAP (München, Germany) for allowing the study of specimens. We thank P. Ungar (University of Arkansas, USA) for his suggestions and discussions. The US NSF, the Thai–French TRF-CNRS Biodiversity Project and the French CNRS, through the ECLIPSE 2 program, funded this project. This study was also funded by a postdoctoral fellowship to GM from the Fondation Fyssen. Finally, we are grateful to the three reviewers who improved the quality of this paper.

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Correspondence to Gildas Merceron.

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Merceron, G., Taylor, S., Scott, R. et al. Dietary characterization of the hominoid Khoratpithecus (Miocene of Thailand): evidence from dental topographic and microwear texture analyses. Naturwissenschaften 93, 329–333 (2006).

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