Does allometry explain the differences between “Gracile” and “Robust” australopithecines?



The allometric relationships between canine base area, first molar and summed molar crown area, and the glabella–opisthocranion distance, and the direct allometric relationships between canine and molar size have been established in five primate taxa. Separate sex and combined sex ‘intraspecific’, and ‘interspecific’ regression and ‘best fit’ allometry coefficients were computed. This analysis showed that for any increase in glabella–opisthocranion length, the rate of increase in canine size exceeds the rate of increase in molar area, and ‘best fit’ solutions indicate that canine base area is positively allometric when related directly to molar crown area.

These results were compared with data available for the ‘gracile’ australopithecine, A. africanus, and two ‘robust’ australopithecine taxa, A. boisei and A. robustus. The differences in canine and molar size which occur between the ‘gracile’ taxon and the two ‘robust’ taxa do not correspond to any of the trends in the comparative allometric models. Data on glabella–opisthocranion length for the fossils, meagre though they are, show that while the proportional increase in molar crown area between the taxa corresponds to comparative allometry models, the reduced canine size in the ‘robust’ taxa is against comparative allometric trends.

These results indicate that, at least in terms of canine/molar proportions, the differences between the ‘gracile’ and ‘robust’ australopithecines are not merely allometric and may indicate significant dietary or behavioural differences.