Constraints on masticatory system evolution in anthropoid primates


  • Mark A. Spencer

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Biological Anthropology and Anatomy, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina 27710
    • Department of Biological Anthropology and Anatomy, Box 3170, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC 27710.
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It is well established that some observed patterns of force production in the primate masticatory system match those predicted by a simplified lever model. This model is also commonly invoked in adaptive explanations of craniodental diversity. However, systematic studies of the predictive power of this model are missing, leaving open the possibility that factors not traditionally included in the model alter the function and evolution of the masticatory system. One such factor was proposed for mammals generally by Greaves ([1978] J. Zool. (Lond.) 184:271–285), who argued that the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) was poorly suited to being pulled apart. In this constrained lever model, the avoidance of joint distraction leads to limitations on masticatory system form and function. The goal of the present study was to quantify masticatory system diversity in anthropoid primates for comparison with these predictions.

Results indicate that all sampled taxa exhibit a form that is consistent with selection against regular distraction of the TMJ. Also apparent from observed patterns of scaling is a regular interaction among a limited set of cranial and dental dimensions, in accordance with the constrained model. However, the data indicate that specific positional relationships among the muscles, joints, and teeth differ from those predicted by Greaves (1978). The pattern of deviation suggests that selection has favored a conservative masticatory system configuration that safeguards the TMJ from distraction during the dynamic processing of irregular foods. The resulting buffered model leads to alternative hypotheses regarding the response of the masticatory system to dietary selection pressures. It may, therefore, improve our understanding of the adaptive significance of primate craniofacial form. Am J Phys Anthropol 108:483–506, 1999. © 1999 Wiley-Liss, Inc.