One problem with dental microwear analyses of museum material is that investigators can never be sure of the diets of the animals in question. An obvious solution to this problem is to work with live animals. Recent work with laboratory primates has shown that high resolution dental impressions can be obtained from live animals. The purpose of this study was to use similar methods to begin to document rates and patterns of dental microwear for primates in the wild.
Thirty-three Alouatta palliata were captured during the wet season at Hacienda La Pacifica near Canas, Costa Rica. Dental impressions were taken and epoxy casts of the teeth were prepared using the methods of Teaford and Oyen (1989a). Scanning electron micrographs were taken of the left mandibular second molars at magnifications of 200× and 500×. Lower magnification images were used to calculate rates of wear, and higher magnification images were used to measure the size and shape of microwear features.
Results indicate that, while basic patterns of dental microwear are similar in museum samples and samples of live, wild-trapped animals of the same species, ecological differences between collection locales may lead to significant intraspecific differences in dental microwear. More importantly, rates of microwear provide the first direct evidence of differences in molar use between monkeys and humans.