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Size and Scaling in the Mandible of Living and Extinct Apes

Ravosa M.J.
Department of Cell and Molecular Biology, Northwestern University Medical School and Department of Zoology, Division of Mammals, Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, Ill., USA Folia Primatol 2000;71:305–322 (DOI:10.1159/000021754)


The purpose of this study is to fill a gap in our knowledge of dietary and allometric determinants of masticatory function and mandibular morphology in major catarrhine clades. To extend the implications of previous work on variation in mandibular form and function in other primates, a scaling analysis was performed on 20 extinct and 7 living non-cercopithecoid catarrhines or ‘dental apes’. Results of allometric comparisons indicate that for a given jaw length, larger apes exhibit significantly more robust corpora and symphyses than smaller forms. This appears linked to size-related increases in dietary toughness and/or hardness, which in turn causes elevated mandibular loads and/or greater repetitive loading during unilateral mastication. Larger-bodied dental apes also display more curved symphyses, which also explains the positive allometry of symphysis width and height. In apes, proconsulids often evince more robust jaws while all hylobatids, Pan and Dryopithecus laietanus possess more gracile cross sections. In propliopithecids, Aegyptopithecus is always more robust than Propliopithecus. In proconsulids, Rangwapithecus and Micropithecus commonly exhibit more robust jaws whereas Dendropithecus and especially Simiolus are more gracile. Most of the larger taxa are folivorous and/or hard-object frugivorous pongids with relatively larger dentaries. Though apes have relatively wider corpora than cercopithecines due to greater axial twisting of the corpora during chewing, they are otherwise alike in robusticity levels. Smaller apes are similar to cercopithecines in evincing a relatively high degree of symphyseal curvature, while larger taxa are like colobines in having less curvature. Larger pongids resemble or even exceed colobine jaw proportions and thus appear to converge on colobines in terms of the mechanical properties of their diets.

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