Computational biomes: The ecometrics of large mammal teeth

Abstract : As organisms are adapted to their environments, assemblages of taxa can be used to describe environments in the present and in the past. Here, we use a data mining method, namely redescription mining, to discover and analyze patterns of association between large herbivorous mammals and their environments via their functional traits. We focus on functional properties of animal teeth, characterized using a recently developed dental trait scoring scheme. The teeth of herbivorous mammals serve as an interface to obtain energy from food, and are therefore expected to match the types of plant food available in their environment. Hence, dental traits are expected to carry a signal of environmental conditions. We analyze a global compilation of occurrences of large herbivorous mammals and of bioclimatic conditions. We identify common patterns of association between dental traits distributions and bioclimatic conditions and discuss their implications. Each pattern can be considered as a computational biome. Our analysis distinguishes three global zones, which we refer to as the boreal-temperate moist zone, the tropical moist zone and the tropical-subtropical dry zone. The boreal-temperate moist zone is mainly characterized by seasonal cold temperatures, a lack of hypsodonty and a high share of species with obtuse lophs. The tropical moist zone is mainly characterized by high temperatures, high isothermality, abundant precipitation and a high share of species with acute rather than obtuse lophs. Finally, the tropical dry zone is mainly characterized by a high seasonality of temperatures and precipitation, as well as high hypsodonty and horizodonty. We find that the dental traits signature of African rain forests is quite different from the signature of climatically similar sites in North America and Asia, where hypsodont species and species with obtuse lophs are mostly absent. In terms of climate and dental signatures, the African seasonal tropics share many similarities with Central-South Asian sites. Interestingly, the Tibetan plateau is covered both by redescriptions from the tropical-subtropical dry group and by redescriptions from the boreal-temperate moist group, suggesting a combination of features from both zones in its dental traits and climate.
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Esther Galbrun, Hui Tang, Mikael Fortelius, Indrė Žliobaitė. Computational biomes: The ecometrics of large mammal teeth. Palaeontologia Electronica, Coquina Press, 2018, 21 (21.1.3A), pp.1-31. ⟨10.26879/786⟩. ⟨hal-01726076⟩

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