Teeth are key to understanding the feeding ecology of both extant and extinct vertebrates. Recent studies have highlighted the previously unrecognized complexity of dinosaur dentitions and how specific tooth tissues and tooth shapes differ between taxa with different diets. However, it is unknown how the ultrastructure of these tooth tissues contributes to the differences in feeding style between taxa. In this study, we use third harmonic generation microscopy and scanning electron microscopy to examine the ultrastructure of the dentine in herbivorous and carnivorous dinosaurs to understand how the structure of this tissue contributes to the overall utility of the tooth. Morphometric analyses of dentinal tubule diameter, density and branching rates reveal a strong signal for dietary preferences, with herbivorous saurischian and ornithischian dinosaurs consistently having higher dentinal tubule density than their carnivorous relatives. We hypothesize that this relates to the hardness of the dentine, where herbivorous taxa have dentine that is more resistant to breakage and wear at the dentine–enamel junction than carnivorous taxa. This study advocates the detailed study of dentine and the use of advanced microscopy techniques to understand the evolution of dentition and feeding ecology in extinct vertebrates.
Electronic supplementary material is available online at https://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.3584054.
- Received August 7, 2016.
- Accepted November 17, 2016.
- © 2016 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.