Quantitative morphological analysis of bovid teeth and implications for paleoenvironmental reconstruction of Plovers Lake, Gauteng Province, South Africa Academic Article uri icon


  • Fossil bovids are widely recognized as valuable ecological indicators, useful for reconstructing paleoenvironments associated with the hominins of Africa. Taxonomic identification of bovid remains in the Plio-Pleistocene fossil deposits of South Africa is based predominantly on dental remains, usually isolated teeth. However, factors such as age and degree of occlusal attrition of teeth often render taxonomic identification difficult. In addition, teeth of closely related bovid taxa can be particularly difficult to diagnose at the species level. Given that closely related bovid species often have differing ecological requirements, imprecise identification of bovids recovered from fossil sites can have significant ramifications when reconstructing environments. This study tests a method for accurately identifying bovid teeth using Elliptical Fourier Function Analysis in order to standardize their identification. The occlusal surfaces of maxillary and mandibular molars of bovid teeth from twenty extant species were digitized and the quantified tooth forms (size and shape) were statistically compared to other closely related bovids. Results indicated that all upper and lower teeth classified correctly using discriminant function analysis 85% of the time, suggesting that occlusal surface form can reliably differentiate between closely related, morphologically similar bovids.This method was applied to a sample of fossil bovid teeth previously identified as "medium-sized alcelaphine" from Plovers Lake, Gauteng Province, South Africa. Precise taxonomic identification of these alcelaphines result in the earliest recorded presence of Alcelaphus buselaphus and Connochaetes gnou in Gauteng Province, as well as potentially the earliest documented co-occurrence of these taxa alongside Connochaetes taurinus and Damaliscus dorcas in South Africa. Revising the paleoenvironment reconstructed for Plovers Lake suggests that it was likely not much more densely wooded than the area today. This contradicts the paleoenvironment previously inferred for the site, suggesting that overreliance on rare and/or small-bodied taxa in the initial report on Plovers Lake overemphasized the extent of woodlands that were indicated. 2013 Elsevier Ltd.

published proceedings


altmetric score

  • 0.5

author list (cited authors)

  • Brophy, J. K., de Ruiter, D. J., Athreya, S., & DeWitt, T. J.

citation count

  • 18

complete list of authors

  • Brophy, Juliet K||de Ruiter, Darryl J||Athreya, Sheela||DeWitt, Thomas J

publication date

  • January 2014