The effect of differences in methodology among some recent applications of shearing quotients.



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A shearing quotient (SQ) is a way of quantitatively representing the Phase I shearing edges on a molar tooth. Ordinary or phylogenetic least squares regression is fit to data on log molar length (independent variable) and log sum of measured shearing crests (dependent variable). The derived linear equation is used to generate an 'expected' shearing crest length from molar length of included individuals or taxa. Following conversion of all variables to real space, the expected value is subtracted from the observed value for each individual or taxon. The result is then divided by the expected value and multiplied by 100. SQs have long been the metric of choice for assessing dietary adaptations in fossil primates. Not all studies using SQ have used the same tooth position or crests, nor have all computed regression equations using the same approach. Here we focus on re-analyzing the data of one recent study to investigate the magnitude of effects of variation in 1) shearing crest inclusion, and 2) details of the regression setup. We assess the significance of these effects by the degree to which they improve or degrade the association between computed SQs and diet categories. Though altering regression parameters for SQ calculation has a visible effect on plots, numerous iterations of statistical analyses vary surprisingly little in the success of the resulting variables for assigning taxa to dietary preference. This is promising for the comparability of patterns (if not casewise values) in SQ between studies. We suggest that differences in apparent dietary fidelity of recent studies are attributable principally to tooth position examined.





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Boyer, Doug M, Julia Winchester and Richard F Kay (2015). The effect of differences in methodology among some recent applications of shearing quotients. Am J Phys Anthropol, 156(1). pp. 166–178. 10.1002/ajpa.22619 Retrieved from

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Douglas Martin Boyer

Associate Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology

Richard Frederick Kay

Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology

I have two areas of research:1) the evolution of primates in South America; and 2) the use of primate anatomy to reconstruct the phylogenetic history and adapations of living and extinct primates, especially Anthropoidea.

1) Evolution of primates and mammalian faunal evolution, especially in South America. For the past 30 years, I have been engaged in research in Argentina, Bolivia The Dominican Republic, Peru, and Colombia with three objectives:a) to reconstruct the evolutionary history and adaptive patterns of South America primates and other mammals; b) to establish a more precise geologic chronology for the mammalian faunas between the late Eocene and middle Miocene (between about 36 and about 15 million years ago); and c) to use anatomy and niche structure of modern mammals as a means to reconstruct the evolution of mammalian niche structure in the Neotropics.

2) Primate Anatomy. I am working to reconstruct the phylogeny of primates based (principally) on anatomical evidence; and to infer the adaptations of extinct primates based mainly on cranial and dental evidence.

Field activities
Current fieldwork is focused on the study of terrestrial biotic change in Patagonia through the 'mid-Miocene Climate Optimum' when global climate was moderate and the subtropical zone, with primates and other typically tropical vertebrates, extended their ranges up to 55 degrees of South latitude.

In this collaborative research undertaking with colleagues at University of Washington and Boise State University, the geochronology of the Santa Cruz Formation at in extreme southern Argentina is being refined using radiometric dating. Stratigraphically-controlled collections have been made of vertebrates and plant macro- and microfossils. Climate change and its impact on the biota is assessed 1) using biogeochemical analysis of stable isotopes in fossil mammalian tooth enamel; 2) by documenting changes in mammalian community structure (richness, origination and extinction rates, and ecological morphology); and 3) by documenting changes in vegetation and floral composition through the study of phytoliths. These three independent lines of evidence in a refined geochronologic framework will then be compared with similar evidence from continental sequences in the Northern Hemisphere and oceanic climatic records to improve our understanding of the timing and character of climatic change in continental high latitudes during this temporal interval.

A second field project project in its early stages is the study of the fossil vertebrates of the Amazon Basin. The latter is a collaborative effort of biologists and geologists across schools at Duke (Nicholas School) and among six North American universities. My role is to direct the vertebrate paleontology component of this project in Brazil and Amazonian Peru. The hope is to recover primates from the Oligocene through Early Miocene. New material will shed light on the phylogenetic status of African Paleogene anthropoids, one of which may be the platyrrhine sister-taxon. Also, new remains of fossil primates will help to refine hypotheses about the origins of the modern families and subfamilies of platyrrhines, all of which trace back to an Early Miocene (17-21 Ma) common ancestor. Finally, new fossil primates may further constrain the time of entry of platyrrhines into South America.

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