[MARMAM] New publication on cetacean enamel

Alex Werth awerth at hsc.edu
Wed Aug 21 16:34:43 PDT 2019

On behalf of my coauthors Carolina Loch and Ewan Fordyce I am pleased to announce the publication of our article in the Journal of Mammalian Evolution entitled "Enamel Microstructure in Cetacea: A Case Study in Evolutionary Loss of Complexity." It is available on the journal and publisher (Springer) website, DOI:10.1007/s10914-019-09484-7, or you can contact me for a pdf copy if interested.

Best regards,


Werth, A.J., C. Loch,, and R.E. Fordyce. 2019. Enamel microstructure in Cetacea: a case study in evolutionary loss of complexity. Journal of Mammalian Evolution,


Abstract:  Enamel microstructure of 34 species in eight odontocete families is described and categorized according to structural complexity (from no or prismless enamel to highly arranged enamel in decussating layers), then correlated with parameters of ecology, life history, and occlusal function. Overall, more complex dental structure in extant and extinct cetaceans is associated with smaller, more numerous teeth in taxa that bite or grasp smaller, harder prey with longer, narrower jaws and have more oral processing. Enamel complexity loosely correlates with mechanical properties, but measurement of compressive strength is complicated by the presence of cementum overlying or in place of crown enamel. Given the presence of Hunter-Schreger bands and other indices of high microstructural complexity in archaic cetaceans (with presumed plesiomorphic characters), the absence of complex enamel, as well as more generally of gross dental form, signals a loss of complexity in various cetacean lineages. Nonetheless, it is difficult to draw robust or reliable inferences regarding either cetacean phylogeny or dental function given the pattern of presumed loss of tooth complexity, and the confounding presence of numerous exceptions (taxa with complex teeth despite limited use, or with thin, weakly developed enamel and soft, simple teeth despite high occlusal function). Although retention of a complex feature implies its continued adaptive value, and thus selection for the underlying genetic and developmental bases for that complexity, loss of complexity can simply follow absence of function. Loss of complex traits presumably relates to accumulated mutations and economic efficiency, but unfolds with no distinct pattern of distribution.

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