Articles | Volume 9, issue 1
Biogeosciences, 9, 119–139, 2012
Biogeosciences, 9, 119–139, 2012

Research article 06 Jan 2012

Research article | 06 Jan 2012

Chemical composition of modern and fossil Hippopotamid teeth and implications for paleoenvironmental reconstructions and enamel formation – Part 1: Major and minor element variation

G. Brügmann1, J. Krause2,3, T. C. Brachert4, O. Kullmer5, F. Schrenk5, I. Ssemmanda6, and D. F. Mertz1 G. Brügmann et al.
  • 1Institut für Geowissenschaften, Joh.-Joachim-Becher-Weg 21, Universität Mainz, 55099 Mainz, Germany
  • 2Max-Planck-Institut für Chemie, Joh.-Joachim-Becher-Weg 27, 55128 Mainz, Germany
  • 3Institut für Mineralogie, Corrensstraße 24, Universität Münster, 48149 Münster, Germany
  • 4Institut für Geophysik und Geologie, Talstraße 35, Universität Leipzig, 4103 Leipzig, Germany
  • 5Forschungsinstitut und Naturmuseum Senckenberg, Senckenberganlage 25, 60325 Frankfurt, Germany
  • 6Geology Department, Makerere University, 7062, Uganda

Abstract. Bioapatite in mammalian teeth is readily preserved in continental sediments and represents a very important archive for reconstructions of environment and climate evolution. This project provides a comprehensive data base of major, minor and trace element and isotope tracers for tooth apatite using a variety of microanalytical techniques. The aim is to identify specific sedimentary environments and to improve our understanding on the interaction between internal metabolic processes during tooth formation and external nutritional control and secondary alteration effects. Here, we use the electron microprobe to determine the major and minor element contents of fossil and modern molar enamel, cement and dentin from Hippopotamids. Most of the studied specimens are from different ecosystems in Eastern Africa, representing modern and fossil lacustrine (Lake Kikorongo, Lake Albert, and Lake Malawi) and modern fluvial environments of the Nile River system. Secondary alteration effects - in particular FeO, MnO, SO3 and F concentrations – are 2 to 10 times higher in fossil than in modern enamel; the secondary enrichment of these components in fossil dentin and cement is even higher. In modern and fossil enamel, along sections perpendicular to the enamel-dentin junction (EDJ) or along cervix-apex profiles, P2O5 and CaO contents and the CaO/P2O5 ratios are very constant (StdDev ∼1%). Linear regression analysis reveals tight control of the MgO (R2∼0.6), Na2O and Cl variation (for both R2>0.84) along EDJ-outer enamel rim profiles, despite large concentration variations (40% to 300%) across the enamel. These minor elements show well defined distribution patterns in enamel, similar in all specimens regardless of their age and origin, as the concentration of MgO and Na2O decrease from the enamel-dentin junction (EDJ) towards the outer rim, whereas Cl displays the opposite trend. Fossil enamel from Hippopotamids which lived in the saline Lake Kikorongo have a much higher MgO/Na2O ratio (∼1.11) than those from the Neogene fossils of Lake Albert (MgO/Na2O∼0.4), which was a large fresh water lake like those in the western Branch of the East African Rift System today. Similarly, the MgO/Na2O ratio in modern enamel from the White Nile River (∼0.36), which has a Precambrian catchment of dominantly granites and gneisses and passes through several saline zones, is higher than that from the Blue Nile River, whose catchment is the Neogene volcanic Ethiopian Highland (MgO/Na2O∼0.22). Thus, particularly MgO/Na2O might be a sensitive fingerprint for environments where river and lake water have suffered strong evaporation. Enamel formation in mammals takes place at successive mineralization fronts within a confined chamber where ion and molecule transport is controlled by the surrounding enamel organ. During the secretion and maturation phases the epithelium generates different fluid composition, which in principle, should determine the final composition of enamel apatite. This is supported by co-linear relationships between MgO, Cl and Na2O which can be interpreted as binary mixing lines. However, if maturation starts after secretion is completed, the observed element distribution can only be explained by equilibration of existing and addition of new apatite during maturation. It appears the initial enamel crystallites precipitating during secretion and the newly formed bioapatite crystals during maturation equilibrate with a continuously evolving fluid. During crystallization of bioapatite the enamel fluid becomes continuously depleted in MgO and Na2O, but enriched in Cl which results in the formation of MgO, and Na2O-rich, but Cl-poor bioapatite near the EDJ and MgO- and Na2O-poor, but Cl-rich bioapatite at the outer enamel rim. The linkage between lake and river water compositions, bioavailability of elements for plants, animal nutrition and tooth formation is complex and multifaceted. The quality and limits of the MgO/Na2O and other proxies have to be established with systematic investigations relating chemical distribution patterns to sedimentary environment and to growth structures developing as secretion and maturation proceed during tooth formation.

Final-revised paper