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Mammal Teeth

Origin, Evolution, and Diversity

Peter S. Ungar

Publication Year: 2010

In this unique book, Peter S. Ungar tells the story of mammalian teeth from their origin through their evolution to their current diversity. Mammal Teeth traces the evolutionary history of teeth, beginning with the very first mineralized vertebrate structures half a billion years ago. Ungar describes how the simple conical tooth of early vertebrates became the molars, incisors, and other forms we see in mammals today. Evolutionary adaptations changed pointy teeth into flatter ones, with specialized shapes designed to complement the corresponding jaw. Ungar explains tooth structure and function in the context of nutritional needs. The myriad tooth shapes produced by evolution offer different solutions to the fundamental problem of how to squeeze as many nutrients as possible out of foods. The book also highlights Ungar's own path-breaking studies that show how microwear analysis can help us understand ancient diets. The final part of the book provides an in-depth examination of mammalian teeth today, surveying all orders in the class, family by family. Ungar describes some of the more bizarre teeth, such as tusks, and the mammal diversity that accompanies these morphological wonders. Mammal Teeth captures the evolution of mammals, including humans, through the prism of dental change. Synthesizing decades of research, Ungar reveals the interconnections among mammal diet, dentition, and evolution. His book is a must-read for paleontologists, mammalogists, and anthropologists.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. iii-iv


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

In the final scene of Annie Hall (1977) Woody Allen explains love with an old joke: “This guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, ‘Doc, my brother’s crazy. He thinks he’s a chicken.’ And the doctor says, ‘Well, why don’t you turn him in?’ The guy says, ‘I would, but I need the eggs.’ ” That...

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pp. 1-6

In the final scene of Annie Hall (1977) Woody Allen explains love with an old joke: “This guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, ‘Doc, my brother’s crazy. He thinks he’s a chicken.’ And the doctor says, ‘Well, why don’t you turn him in?’ The guy says, ‘I would, but I need the eggs.’ ” That...


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pp. 7-8

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Tooth Structure and Form

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pp. 9-15

MAMMAL TEETH COME IN many shapes and sizes. They can be simple pegs or complex structures with scores of bumps and grooves along their surfaces. No matter how complex they are, though, dental researchers take great pains to describe them in....

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Dental Histology and Development

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pp. 16-25

DENTAL HISTOLOGY IS the study of the microscopic structure of teeth. Dental microstructure is an important part of the story of the adaptive radiation of mammalian tooth form. Teeth are subject to considerable load forces, and the strength of a tooth depends in large part on the microscopic arrangement of its tissues. This arrangement reflects...

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Food and Feeding

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pp. 26-38

THE FAMED FRENCH POLITICIAN and gourmet Jean- Anthelme Brillat- Savarin wrote in La physiologie du goût, “Tell me what you eat, I will tell you who you are.” One can only guess whether the similar wording of Cuvier’s statement, “Show me your teeth, and I will tell you who you are,” is coincidental. Whether these statements are connected....

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Food Acquisition and Processing

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pp. 39-57

AS ANY FIVE- YEAR- OLD child with even a passing interest in dinosaurs seems to know intuitively, animals with differently shaped teeth eat different foods. And this has been understood for a very long time. Aristotle noted relationships between tooth form and function...

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Classification of the Mammals

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pp. 58-70

TEETH ARE ULTIMATELY ABOUT food processing, but they cannot be understood outside of their phylogenetic context. Gentle lemurs and giant pandas both feed on bamboo, but their teeth look entirely different. Ancestral lemurs and pandas had very different dental morphologies, and while their descendants may have converged on similar...


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pp. 71-72

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Teeth before the Mammals

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pp. 73-82

WORLD DOMINATION! There can be little doubt that improved efficiencies of food acquisition and processing make teeth among the most important innovations in the evolution of life. While these structures reached a new level of complexity and variation with the radiation of mammals, the story of teeth began well before the earliest...

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The Origin of Mammalian Mastication

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pp. 83-96

AND THEN THE SYNAPSIDS CAME, in three great waves. First came the pelycosaurs, then the the rapsids, and finally the mammals. Each was dominant among the land vertebrates of its time, and each in turn evolved in remarkable radiations to replace its predecessors....

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The Fossil Record for Mesozoic Mammals

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pp. 97-109

CONVENTIONAL WISDOM SUGGESTS that not much happened during the first two- thirds of mammalian evolution. The image of a small, nocturnal insectivore lying patiently in wait 170 million years for the rock to drop on the dinosaurs is both compelling and...

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Cenozoic Mammalian Evolution

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pp. 110-127

EXPECTING A DETAILED SURVEY of Cenozoic mammals in one chapter is very much like asking the great sage Hillel to teach the entire Torah while standing on one leg. One can introduce some of the larger themes, but the reader really needs to “go and study” the more comprehensive reviews available (see, e.g., Kielan- Jaworowska, Cifelli, and Luo....

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Monotremata and Marsupialia

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pp. 129-143

WHEN MOST OF US THINK about mammals, we think about lions and tigers and bears, or elephants and giraffes, or cows and sheep, but not platypuses and koalas. To be sure, living monotremes have little to off er dental researchers, but the marsupials present an incredible variety of teeth. They provide us with an impressive example...

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Xenarthra and Afrotheria

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pp. 144-152

MOLECULAR SYSTEMATISTS RECOGNIZE four basic clades of placental mammals, two groups associated with the Southern Hemisphere, Xenarthra and Afrotheria, and two from northern continents, Laurasiatheria and Euarchontoglires (see chapter 5 for details). While the northern, or Laurasian, clades are usually joined together as Boreoeutheria, there is less agreement on how Xenarthra and Afrotheria are....

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pp. 153-187

THERE ARE TWO NORTHERN- CONTINENT superordinal clades, Laurasiatheria and Euarchontoglires. While many researchers join these groups into Boreoeutheria, each is so diverse, both phyletically and adaptively, that it warrants its own chapter here. Euarchontoglires is the most speciose of the supraordinal clades and contains about...

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pp. 188-220

EUARCHONTOGLIRES IS THE MOST speciose of the supraordinal mammalian clades, comprising about 60% of all recent mammalian species (see, e.g., Rydell and Yalden 1997; Nowak 1999; Y.-F. Lee and McCracken 2002; D. E. Wilson and Reeder 2005; Debelica, Matthews, and Ammerman 2006; and Zanon and Reis 2007). These species are found in...

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pp. 221-228

WHILE EVEN THE DEEPEST understanding of mammalian dentitions will not unravel all the mysteries of the universe, without teeth we would not be here to ponder them. Teeth are fundamental to the mammalian way of life and to the adaptive diversity...


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pp. 229-231


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pp. 233-296


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pp. 297-304

E-ISBN-13: 9780801899515
E-ISBN-10: 0801899516
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801896682
Print-ISBN-10: 0801896681

Page Count: 320
Illustrations: 6 b&w photos, 6 b&w illus., 92 line drawings
Publication Year: 2010