Incorporating intraspecific variation into dental microwear texture analysis

Samuel D. Arman, Thomas A.A. Prowse, Aidan M.C. Couzens, Peter S. Ungar, Gavin J. Prideaux

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Dental microwear texture analysis (DMTA) quantifies microscopic scar or wear patterns left on teeth by different foods or extraneous ingested items such as grit. It can be a powerful tool for deducing the diets of extinct mammals. Here we investigate how intraspecific variation in the dental microwear of macropodids (kangaroos and their close relatives) can be used to maximize the dietary signal inferable from an inherently limited fossil record. We demonstrate significant intraspecific variation for every factor considered here for both scale-sensitive fractal analysis and International Organization for Standardization surface texture analysis variables. Intraspecific factors were then incorporated into interspecific (dietary) analyses through the use of Linear Mixed Effects modelling, incorporating Akaike's Information Criterion to compare models, and testing models through independent cross-validation. This revealed that for each DMTA variable only a small number of intraspecific factors need to be included to improve differentiation between species. Including specimen as a random factor accounted for stochastic inter-individual variation, and facet, incorporated effects of sampling location. Intraspecific effects of ecoregion, microscope, tooth position and wear were often but not universally important. We conclude that models of microwear data that include intraspecific variation can improve the resolution of dietary reconstructions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20180957
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of the Royal Society Interface
Issue number153
Publication statusPublished - 26 Apr 2019


  • Kangaroos
  • Metrology
  • Microwear
  • Modelling
  • Palaeodiet
  • Palaeontology


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