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Dentition and body condition: tooth wear as a correlate of weight loss in roe deer
Frontiers in Zoology  (IF3.172),  Pub Date : 2021-09-20, DOI: 10.1186/s12983-021-00433-w
Chirichella, Roberta, De Marinis, Anna Maria, Pokorny, Boštjan, Apollonio, Marco

In many mammalian species, once the permanent teeth have erupted, the only change to dentition is a gradual loss of tooth surface/height through wear. The crown of the teeth cannot be repaired once worn. When dental crown tissue has been depleted due to wear, the animal is expected to have a suboptimal body condition. We evaluated the role of tooth wear in causing a reduction of physical condition in adult roe deer females (Capreolus capreolus). The progressive wearing of the lower cheek teeth was assessed in a Northern Apennines (Italy) population with a new scoring scheme based on objectively described tooth characteristics (morphotypes) being either present or absent. Eviscerated body mass and mandible length, which is a good proxy for body size in roe deer, were related to the tooth wear score by the use of linear regressions. The sum of wear scores for molariform teeth correlated most strongly with body condition (i.e., eviscerated body mass/mandible length), showing the importance of the entire chewing surface for acquiring energy by food comminution, chewing, and digestion. In comparison with individuals of comparable size experiencing minor tooth wear, the body mass of those with the most advanced stage of tooth wear was decreased by 33.7%. This method was compared to the height and the hypsodonty index of the first molar, the most commonly used indices of tooth wear. The sum of molariform wear scoring scheme resulted in a more suitable index to describe the variation in body condition of roe deer. Describing tooth wear patterns in hunted populations and monitoring at which tooth wear level (and therefore dental morphotype) an animal is no longer able to sustain its physical condition (i.e. when it begins to lose body mass) can be a useful tool for improving the management of the most widespread and abundant deer species in Europe. At the same time, such an approach can clarify the role of tooth wear as a proximate cause of senescence in ungulates.