Differences in Tooth Microwear of Populations of Caribou (Rangifer tarandus, Ruminantia, Mammalia) and Implications to Ecology, Migration, Glaciations and Dental Evolution

  • Florent RivalsEmail author
  • Nikos Solounias
Original Paper


Tooth microwear was analyzed for a large sample of wild-shot barren-ground caribou (Rangifer tarandus groenlandicus) from the Kaminuriak population of eastern Canada. This sample was compared to the microwear of specimens from three Pleistocene localities in North America (Alaska) and western Europe (Caune de l’Arago in France and Salzgitter in Germany). The results show that the extant samples from eastern Canada have seasonal variation in microwear and presumably in diet. The differences in microwear between the various seasons may reflect a cyclic migration of the population within a year. The extinct population from Alaska has extremely blunt teeth (mesowear), as blunt as those of modern zebras and bison. This observation is corroborated by the lowest number of microwear pits. The findings are untypical, as most typical caribou teeth have sharper apices, and we interpret this as an indication of a local habitat that was different with animals feeding on non-typical vegetation. The combination of Rangifer from Caune de l’Arago and Salzgitter reveals a pattern in microwear variability. The Salzgitter is interglacial and shows a greater diversity of browsing (broad spectrum on average number of pits) than the glacial Caune de l’Arago. The interglacial population from Salzgitter is interesting because it shows several different types of browsing. Collectively all the Rangifer teeth show that diet of a brachydont taxon can vary across most of the dietary morphospace of ungulates as represented by tooth microwear. The three Pleistocene samples exhibit microwear that is different from the extant population in question. This observation implies that the recent diet of Rangifer has changed from the typical caribou diet in the past. This indicates dietary change within a species. This is important because it represents dietary evolution without changes in tooth morphology.


Dental microwear Diet Caribou Rangifer tarandus Glaciations Dental evolution 



We are grateful to Gina Semprebon for help and discussions and Renata Trister for help with the manuscript. We also thank the two anonymous reviewers, and John Wible, the editor, for helpful comments on an earlier version of this manuscript. We thank the museums who provided access to specimens, in particular we are grateful to: J. Flynn, J. Meng, C. Norris, J. Galkin (Department of Vertebrate Paleontology, American Museum of Natural History, New York), E. Westwig (Department of Mammalogy, American Museum of Natural History, New York), R. White (Department of Anthropology, New York University), H. de Lumley (Institut de Paléontologie Humaine, Paris), and W.-D. Steinmetz (Braunschweigisches Landesmuseum, Wolfenbuttel). We thank the French ministry of foreign affairs and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation for fellowship grants to FR.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.ICREA—IPHES, Àrea de PrehistòriaUniversitat Rovira i VirgiliTarragonaSpain
  2. 2.Department of AnatomyNew York College of Osteopathic MedicineOld WestburyUSA
  3. 3.Division of Vertebrate PaleontologyAmerican Museum of Natural HistoryNew YorkUSA

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