Fish tooth roughness analysis reveals insights into underwater eating habits

Leicester scientists led by Professor Mark Purnell from our Department of Geology have developed a technique to perform dietary analysis of fish by analysing microscopic tooth wear.

The process, which involves taking moulds of the teeth similar to those a dentist might take, used focus variation microscopy to digitally capture details of the tooth surfaces, zooming in to an area just 1/7th of a mm in width - around the same as that of a human hair.

These 3D data allowed the researchers to distinguish between different diet by comparing the roughness and shape of the tooth surface on a tiny scale, offering a new method to analyse fish diets based on the fossil record.

Whilst this technique has been used before on land animals, the application to other fish species and sea mammals will allow researchers to investigate how diet controlled the evolution of aquatic creatures in the distant past.

The results are published in the journal Surface Topography: Metrology and Properties.