Scanning Microscopy


This paper initiates a survey of the enamel of fossil and extant Australian marsupials by scanning electron microscopy. Enamel was examined from 17 extant and 11 extinct marsupials. Assessment was made of prism packing pattern, prism course, tubule presence, tubule size and distribution. Values calculated were: prism diameter; prism axis ratio; cross-sectional prism area; cross-sectional ameloblast area; and numerical prism density.

Three different prism packing arrangements were found for extant and fossil marsupials within the classical Pattern 2. The Pattern 1 arrangement found in three extant species was relatively unexpected given the general acceptance of Marsupialia as having Pattern 2 enamel. Attention is drawn to the variable loss of prism demarcation towards the outer enamel surface. The majority of both extant and fossil marsupials exhibited a simple radial prism course. Prism diameters were small ranging from 1.4 μm to 3.9 μm and prism densities were high, compared to those for human and multituberculate enamel.

A significant inter-species variation was noted in the presence and size of enamel tubules. The absence of enamel tubules in the incisors of D. optatum, N. tedfordi and T. rostratus and the molar of W. wakefieldi was confirmed. Large bulbous spaces were found either along or at the termination of enamel tubules in some teeth of five fossil species: these spaces may represent the resting place of an ameloblast.

We have found: a greater variation in prism packing patterns; a greater difference in characteristics studied between incisor and molar teeth; and a greater variety of tubule morphology than anticipated. There are signs that useful enamel ultrastructural characters are emerging to help ultimately with taxonomic investigations of Australian marsupials.

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