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. 2007 Jun;290(6):523-38.
doi: 10.1002/ar.20540.

Use of Tusks in Feeding by Dugongid Sirenians: Observations and Tests of Hypotheses

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Use of Tusks in Feeding by Dugongid Sirenians: Observations and Tests of Hypotheses

Daryl P Domning et al. Anat Rec (Hoboken). .
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Most living and fossil sea cows of the subfamily Dugonginae (Dugongidae, Sirenia, Mammalia) are characterized by large upper incisor tusks, which are thought to play an important role (at least primitively) in feeding on seagrass rhizomes. Testing this hypothesis is difficult, because the only extant tusked sirenian (Dugong dugon) is morphologically and perhaps behaviorally aberrant. The tests attempted here involve examination of stomach contents of wild Recent dugongs, experiments using plastic replicas of diverse tusks to harvest seagrasses, gross anatomical observations on tusks and skulls, measurements of tusk tip geometry, and observations of microwear on tusks. We conclude that (a) male D. dugon (with erupted tusks) do not consume more rhizomes than females (without erupted tusks); (b) the tusks do not play a significant role in feeding in the modern dugong; (c) larger, more bladelike tusks are more effective at harvesting rhizomes, but the effect of shape was not experimentally separated from the effect of exposed tusk length; (d) some fossil dugongines show apparent cranial adaptations for downward and backward cutting motions of their large, bladelike tusks; (e) geometry of wear surfaces is consistent with use of at least the more bladelike tusks as cutting instruments; (f) preliminary observations of microwear in D. dugon do not indicate more than occasional use of the tusks in purposeful harvesting of rhizomes, and then only opportunistically by large adult males. The hypothesis of such tusk use by extinct dugongines (in contrast to the living species) is so far corroborated, but available data and tests do not suffice to establish this conclusively.

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