Family Bovidae Tooth Image Reference Database

Fossil remains of the Bovidae family, such as antelopes and buffaloes, are frequently used to reconstruct past environments1,2,3. Bovidae reflect distinct ecological adaptations in terms of diet, habitat, water dependence, and seasonal migrations that vary according to their respective ecological niches. The widespread cooling at the end of the Miocene led to a major adaptive radiation of bovids, and increasingly they began to exploit more open environments.4,5,6. Thus, around 4 Ma, bovids came to dominate the African fauna, replacing the previously abundant suids.7,8,9. The current distribution of bovidae extends across the African continent in a myriad of environments that differ greatly in the proportions of forest and grass cover.

The importance of bovid remains for paleoanthropological research was originally established by Broom10.11 and Wells and Cooke12. This reliance has broadened and now extends from paleo-dietetic studies and evolutionary trends to behavioral patterns of hominins.13,14,15. Additionally, several studies have demonstrated that changes in the relative abundance of bovid taxa reflected in fossil assemblages are indicative of fluctuations in environmental conditions, as bovids appear to be particularly sensitive to environmental changes.16,17,18.

Bovid teeth, especially isolated teeth, make up the majority of the fossil record from southern Africa. Thus, bovid teeth, coupled with their ecological tendencies, are important sources of information for reconstructing the paleoenvironments associated with fossil hominids. The taxonomic identification of fossil bovid teeth is often problematic, however; bias factors such as age and degree of wear complicate identifications and often result in considerable overlap in tooth shape and size. Traditionally, researchers have relied on comparative modern and fossil collections to identify isolated bovid teeth. However, researchers are somewhat limited by movements and the specific type and number of bovids housed at each settlement. Here we present BOVID (Bovidae Occlusal Visual IDentification) which is a repository of images of the occlusal surface of bovid teeth (~3900). The purpose of the database is to allow researchers to view a large sample of teeth from different tribes, genera and species. The sample includes the three upper molars and the three lower molars in several states of wear from the seven most common tribes in the southern African fossil record and the twenty most common species of these tribes. This design will help researchers see the natural variation that exists within a specific tooth type of a taxon and, together with the current sample, help taxonomically identify extant and fossil teeth with their modern counterparts.

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