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The Feeding Habits of the Shovel-Tusked Gomphotheres: Evidence from Tusk Wear Patterns

W. David Lambert
Paleobiology
Vol. 18, No. 2 (Spring, 1992), pp. 132-147
Published by: Paleontological Society
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2400995
Page Count: 16
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The Feeding Habits of the Shovel-Tusked Gomphotheres: Evidence from Tusk Wear Patterns
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Abstract

The shovel-tusked gomphotheres are normally portrayed scooping up water plants with their shovellike mandibular tusks. This portrayal is based on speculation about the possible functions of the lower tusks and misinterpretation of mandibular-tusk wear patterns that goes back to the 1920s and 1930s. In addition, most literature concerning shovel-tusker feeding behavior ignores the possibility that the upper tusks may have had a role in feeding, as they do in modern African elephants. Because wear patterns on tusks provide direct evidence as to how tusks were used during feeding, I examined and interpreted patterns on the lower and upper tusks of shovel-tusked gomphotheres on the basis of theoretical models of tusk wear to determine how the tusks were used in feeding. This examination led to the following conclusions. (1) The genus Amebelodon was characterized by feeding opportunism, gathering food with both its lower and upper tusks in a variety of ways. (2) There is evidence for similar flexibility within the genus Serbelodon. (3) Wear patterns on man-dibular tusks of Platybelodon grangeri and Torynobelodon barnumbrowni indicate that these taxa did not practice mandibular shoveling but used these tusks to cut tough vegetation in a specialized fashion. (4) The flaplike trunks (probosces) generally attributed to shovel-tusked gomphotheres in restorations are shown almost certainly to be erroneous; morphological and functional evidence suggests that these animals had trunks similar to those of modern elephants. (5) Strong tusk sexual dimorphism is unknown in the shovel-tusked gomphotheres except for Platybelodon and should not be found in any taxa that relied on their tusks for procuring food. New restorations of both Amebelodon and Platybelodon are provided that are more consistent with the actual evidence bearing on their feeding behavior.

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