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

Brügmann, G.; Krause, J.; Brachert, T. C.; Stoll, B.; Weis, U.; Kullmer, O.; Ssemmanda, I.; Mertz, D. F.

This study demonstrates that alkaline earth elements in enamel of hippopotamids, in particular Ba and Sr, are tracers for water provenance and hydrochemistry in terrestrial settings. The studied specimens are permanent premolar and molar teeth found in modern and fossil lacustrine sediments 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 two orders of magnitude for Ba (120–9336 μg g −1) as well as for Sr (9–2150 μg g −1). The variations are partially induced during post-mortem alteration and during amelogenesis, but the major contribution originates ultimately from the variable water chemistry in the habitats of the hippopotamids which is controlled by the lithologies and weathering processes in the watershed areas. Amelogenesis causes a distinct distribution of MgO, 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 1.3–1.9. These elements are well correlated in single specimens, thus suggesting that their distribution is determined by a common, single process, which can be described by closed system Rayleigh crystallization of bioapatite in vivo.

Enamel from most hippopotamid specimens has Sr/Ca and Ba/Ca which are typical for herbivores. However, Ba/Sr ranges from 0.1 to 3 and varies on spatial and temporal scales. Thus, Sr concentrations and Ba/Sr in enamel differentiate between habitats having basaltic mantle rocks or Archean crustal rocks as the ultimate sources of Sr and Ba. This provenance signal is modulated by climate change. In Miocene to Pleistocene enamel from the Lake Albert region, Ba/Sr decreases systematically with time from 2 to 0.5. This trend can be correlated with changes in climate from humid to arid, in vegetation from C 3 to C 4 biomass as well as with increasing evaporation of the lake water. The most plausible explanation is that Ba mobility decreased with increasing aridification due to preferential deposition with clay and Fe-oxide-hydroxide or barite on the watershed of Lake Albert.

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Brügmann, G. / Krause, J. / Brachert, T. C. / et al: 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. 2012. Copernicus Publications.

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