Shape descriptors as ecometrics in dental ecology
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School of Biological Sciences, Monash University, VIC 3800, and Mammalogy and Geosciences, Museum Victoria, Melbourne, VIC 3001
Publication date: 2013-05-21
Hystrix It. J. Mamm. 2013;24(1):133–140
The revolution in morphometrics over the last 20 years has largely been in shape analysis methods that explicitly encode shape. These methods, which include Fourier outline shape analysis, Procrustes-based geometric morphometrics and eigenshape analysis, can be termed "shape specifiers". Despite their tremendous power in comparisons of shape, they do not give information about more general characteristics of shape that may be useful in interpreting function or ecology of an organism. "Shape descriptors" are computational representations of shape that can summarise high-level characteristics, such as overall shape or complexity. This paper describes a number of shape descriptors that have been used to capture specific morphological features of mammal teeth. Many of these dental shape descriptors have been valuable as "ecometrics", characteristics of organisms that reflect a species' ecology and can be used to reconstruct past environments. Shape descriptors can relate to the gross morphology or to the microwear texture of the tooth surface, as each of these have different characteristics and information regarding function and ecology. While this review concentrates on shape descriptors for teeth, it is hoped that they will give inspiration and stimulation to use and discover additional descriptors for other morphological systems.