Complex Dental Structure and Wear Biomechanics in Hadrosaurid Dinosaurs

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Science  05 Oct 2012:
Vol. 338, Issue 6103, pp. 98-101
DOI: 10.1126/science.1224495

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A Toothy Problem

Large mammalian herbivores such as horses and bison are well known to possess a complex, grinding dentition that facilitates processing of their tough, cellulose-rich plant diet. Hadrosaurid, or duck-billed, dinosaurs also possessed complex teeth, but how this was achieved has been unknown because reptiles typically possess simple teeth. Erickson et al. (p. 98) show how Hadrosaurs evolved teeth composed of six tissues, which allowed for the development of tooth complexity rivaling, or exceeding, that of modern herbivorous mammals.


Mammalian grinding dentitions are composed of four major tissues that wear differentially, creating coarse surfaces for pulverizing tough plants and liberating nutrients. Although such dentition evolved repeatedly in mammals (such as horses, bison, and elephants), a similar innovation occurred much earlier (~85 million years ago) within the duck-billed dinosaur group Hadrosauridae, fueling their 35-million-year occupation of Laurasian megaherbivorous niches. How this complexity was achieved is unknown, as reptilian teeth are generally two-tissue structures presumably lacking biomechanical attributes for grinding. Here we show that hadrosaurids broke from the primitive reptilian archetype and evolved a six-tissue dental composition that is among the most sophisticated known. Three-dimensional wear models incorporating fossilized wear properties reveal how these tissues interacted for grinding and ecological specialization.

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