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Raw data from: Differentiating siliceous particulate matter in the diets of mammalian herbivores


Fannin, Luke et al. (2022), Raw data from: Differentiating siliceous particulate matter in the diets of mammalian herbivores, Dryad, Dataset,


1. Silica is crucial to terrestrial plant life and geochemical cycling on Earth. It is also implicated in the evolution of mammalian teeth, but there is debate over which type of siliceous particle has exerted the strongest selective pressure on tooth morphology.

2. Debate revolves around the amorphous silica bodies (phytoliths) in plants and forms of siliceous grit––i.e., crystalline quartz (sand, soil, dust)––on plant surfaces. The problem is that conventional measures of silica often quantify both particle types simultaneously.

3. Here we describe a protocol that relies on heavy-liquid flotation to separate and quantify siliceous particulate matter in the diets of herbivores. The method is reproducible and well-suited to detecting species- or population-level differences in silica ingestion. In addition, we detected meaningful variation within the digestive tracts of cows, an outcome that supports the premise of ruminal fluid ‘washing’ of siliceous grit.

4. We used bootstrap resampling to estimate the sample sizes needed to compare species, populations, or individuals in space and time. We found that a minimum sample of 12 individuals is necessary if the species is a browser or as many as 55 if the species is a grazer, which are more variable. But a sample size of 20 is adequate for detecting statistical differences. We conclude by suggesting that our protocol for differentiating and quantifying silica holds promise for testing competing hypotheses on the evolution of dental traits.


National Science Foundation, Award: 1840344

National Science Foundation, Award: BCS-SBE 1829315

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Award: VT-H0231

National Science Foundation, Award: 2104997