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Chemical composition of modern and fossil Hippopotamid teeth and implications for paleoenvironmental reconstructions and enamel formation - Part 2: Alkaline earth elements as tracers of watershed hydrochemistry and provenance

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  • Ddc:560
  • Chemistry
  • Earth Science
  • Ecology
  • Geography


For reconstructing environmental change in terrestrial realms the geochemistry of fossil bioapatite in bones and teeth is among the most promising applications. This study demonstrates that alkaline earth elements in enamel of Hippopotamids, in particular Ba and Sr are tracers for water provenance and hydrochemistry. The studied specimens are molar teeth from Hippopotamids found in modern and fossil lacustrine settings of the Western Branch of the East African Rift system (Lake Kikorongo, Lake Albert, and Lake Malawi) and from modern fluvial environments of the Nile River. Concentrations in enamel vary by ca. two orders of magnitude for Ba (120–9336 μg g−1) as well as for Sr (9–2150 μg g−1). Concentration variations in enamel are partly induced during post-mortem alteration and during amelogenesis, but the major contribution originates from the variable water chemistry in the habitats of the Hippopotamids which is dominated by the lithologies and weathering processes in the watershed areas. Amelogenesis causes a distinct distribution of Ba and Sr in modern and fossil enamel, in that element concentrations increase along profiles from the outer rim towards the enamel-dentin junction by a factor of 1.3–1.5. These elements are well correlated with MgO and Na2O in single specimens, thus suggesting that their distribution is determined by a common, single process. Presuming that the shape of the tooth is established at the end of the secretion process and apatite composition is in equilibrium with the enamel fluid, the maturation process can be modeled by closed system Rayleigh crystallization. Enamel from many Hippopotamid specimens has Sr/Ca and Ba/Ca which are typical for herbivores, but the compositions extend well into the levels of plants and carnivores. Within enamel from single specimens these element ratios covary and provide a specific fingerprint of the Hippopotamid habitat. All specimens together, however, define subparallel trends with different Ba/Sr ranging from 0.1 to 3. This ratio varies on spatial and temporal scales and traces provenance signals as well as the fractionation of the elements in the hydrological cycle. Thus, Sr concentrations and Ba/Sr in enamel differentiate between habitats having basaltic or Archean crustal rocks as the ultimate sources of Sr and Ba. The provenance signal is modulated by climate change. In Miocene to Pleistocene enamel from the Lake Albert region, Ba/Sr decreases systematically with time from about 2 to 0.5. This trend can be correlated with changes in climate from humid to arid in vegetation from C3 to C4 biomass as well as with increasing evaporation of the lake water. The most plausible explanation is that with time, Ba mobility decreased relative to that of Sr. This can arise if preferential adsorption of Ba to clay and Fe-oxide-hydroxide is related to increasing aridification. Additionally, weathering solutions and lake water can become increasingly alkaline and barite becomes stable. In this case, Ba will be preferentially deposited on the watershed of Lake Albert and rivers with low Ba/Sr will feed the habitats of the Hippopotamids.

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