Quantitative differences in dental microwear between primate species with different diets and a comment on the presumed diet of Sivapithecus



Studies of dental microwear have been used to relate tooth form to function in a variety of recent and extinct mammals. Probably the most important aspect of microwear analysis is the possibility of using it to deduce the diet of extinct animals. Such deductions must be based on comparative studies of modern species with known diets, but to date, only qualitative studies have been attempted and all have been based on small samples. Here we report quantitative differences in dental microwear between primate species that are known to have different diets.

Occlusal facets with different functions have previously been shown to exhibit different microwear patterns. However, the differences between facets of one species are shown to be far less than those between homologous facets of different species. Study of seven species of extant primates shows that enamel microwear can be used to distinguish between those with a mainly frugivorous diet and those with a mainly folivorous one. Microwear can also distinguish hard-object feeders from soft-fruit eaters. The microwear of Miocene Sivapithecus indicus cannot be distinguished statistically from that of the chimpanzee, but it is different from that of the other species. On this evidence S. indicus was not a hard-object feeder and the adaptive significance of its thick molar enamel is at present unknown.