Acta Palaeontologica Polonica

Hypsodonty and enamel microstructure in the Paleocene gondwanatherian mammal Sudamerica ameghinoi

Wighart v. Koenigswald, Francisco Goin, and Rosendo Pascuali

Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 44 (3), 1999: 263-300

Gondwanatherians were the earliest mammals to develop hypsodont cheek-teeth with thick cementum, already by the Late Cretaceous. Hypsodonty occurred independently in Gondwanatheria and Theria; however, very similar biomechanical strategies are observed. The hypsodont molariform cheek-teeth of the early Paleocene Sudamerica ameghinoi, the youngest member of the Gondwanatheria, are described. Sudamerica had in the lower jaw a continuously growing incisor and, separated by a large diastema, four cheek-teeth which cannot be homologized with premolars or molars, therefore they are regarded as molariforms. The analysis of one fragmentary mandible and 30 isolated molariforms led to the recognition of 8 different morphological categories among them, corresponding to four upper and four lower molariforms. The height of the teeth indicates a relatively high shape of the skull. The molariforms are characterized by transverse lophs; when only slightly worn, they show central enamel islets in the anterior/posterior caps and in the transverse valleys. When the first quarter of the tooth is worn down, these islets disappear and the synclines expand leaving only a narrow central longitudinal ridge. The enamel of the molariforms of Sudamerica is one-layered and formed by radial enamel; it resembles the enamel of Gondwanatherium. Compared to the enamel of the Gondwanatheria from Madagascar and India, the South American gondwanatherians are distinctly less derived. In turn, the incisor enamel is less derived in Sudamerica, although younger, than in Gondwanatherium; both show a combination of radial and tangential enamel. The evolution of hypsodonty in gondwanatherians during the Late Cretaceous and early Paleocene cannot be correlated with a grass diet, since grasses were not present during that time. Various lines of evidence including the dental morphology and the inferred habitat for Sudamerica ameghinoi, suggest semiaquatic and perhaps a burrowing way of life, similar to that of living beavers.

Key words: Hypsodonty, enamel microstructure, enamel islets, Gondwanatheria, Sudamerica, Multituberculata.

Wighart v. Koenigswald [], Institut für Paläontologie, Universität Bonn, Nussallee 8, D-53115 Bonn, Germany; Francisco Goin [] and Rosendo Pascual [], Departamento Paleontología Vertebrados, Museo de La Plata, Paseo del Bosque s/n, 1900 La Plata, Argentina.

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