Out of the mouths of baboons: Stress, life history, and dental development in the Awash National Park hybrid zone, Ethiopia



The techniques of dental histology provide a method for reconstructing much of the life history of an individual, as accentuated increments visible in polarized light microscopy record incidents of physiological stress during the formation of dental tissues. Combined with counts of the normal periodic growth increments, they provide a means of reconstructing the chronology of dental development, age at death, and the ages at which stress occurs. In this study, we determine age at death and reconstruct the chronology of dental development in two male anubis baboons from Uganda and two female baboons from the Awash National Park hybrid zone. For the female baboons, we used the dates of death and rainfall records for the region to determine date of birth, ages at periods of physiological stress, dates at which these stresses occurred, and rainfall amounts for those months.

Ages determined histologically for each specimen are comparable to ages estimated from dental emergence schedules and dental scores for wild baboons. Crown formation times are longer than those reported in radiographic studies of captive yellow baboons. Age at initiation of crown formation is similar to that reported for radiographic studies, but ages at completion of crown formation are consistently later. The pattern of stresses is similar in the two female baboons, suggesting that individual life history intersects with local ecology to produce a pattern of accentuated increments occurring during the weaning process and at the onset of menarche, as well as during the first postweaning dry and rainy periods. Am J Phys Anthropol 118:239–252, 2002. © 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.