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Keywords:

  • dental anatomy;
  • jaw biomechanics;
  • mastication;
  • dietary evolution;
  • Cebus;
  • Chiropotes;
  • Pithecia

Abstract

Research into the functional and adaptive basis of tooth crown form has provided a useful framework for the inference of diet in extinct primates. However, our understanding of variation in tooth-root form is limited. Studies within the clinical literature emphasize the influence of tooth-root surface area on stress resistance, but it is not known if root form has diversified during primate evolution in relation to dietary specialization. This hypothesis was tested by quantifying maxillary canine and postcanine tooth-root surface areas in four platyrrhine species that differ in the material properties of their diet: Cebus apella, Cebus albifrons, Chiropotes satanas, and Pithecia pithecia. Pairwise comparisons between closely related taxa support predictions based on dietary differences. Taxa that regularly consume resistant seeds (Cebus apella and Chiropotes satanas) exhibit significantly larger relative surface area values for those teeth used in seed processing than closely related taxa that consume resistant foods less often (Cebus albifrons and Pithecia pithecia). Additionally, relative molar-root surface area appears to be greater in Pithecia than in Chiropotes, as predicted from the more folivorous diet of Pithecia. Tooth-root surface area was also found to vary along the tooth row and should therefore have a significant influence on antero-posterior bite-force gradients. The results of this study suggest a close relationship between tooth-root form and patterns of occlusal loading. Further elucidation of this relationship could improve our inferences of diet in extinct taxa, and augment research into the mechanics and evolution of feeding. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2003. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.