Morphological adaptation to diet in platyrrhine primates


  • Fred Anapol,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Anthropology, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53201
    • Department of Anthropology, University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee, Bolton Hall, P.O. Box 413, Milwaukee, WI 53201
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  • Sarah Lee

    1. Department of Human Anatomy and Cell Biology, The University of Liverpool, Liverpool L69 3BX, UK
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Morphological features of the jaws and teeth are examined in eight species of platyrrhine monkeys that coexist in the Suriname rainforest. Z-scores calculated from geometric predictions for several features of the feeding apparatus thought to have some functional significance (e. g., tooth dimensions, jaw robusticity, leverage of primary jaw elevators) are compared to a profile of the naturalistic dietary behavior of these species (i. e., proportions of fruit mesocarp, seeds, leaves, and fauna eaten).

Several features are found exclusively in those platyrrhines whose dietary preferences are the most limited. Such specializations appear to be associated with a particular protein source exploited by a species to supplement a largely frugivorous diet. Ateles paniscus, which feeds primarily on the mesocarp of ripe fruit, has an adaptive morphology that emphasizes broad incisors. Chiropotes satanas (and to a slightly lesser extent, Pithecia pithecia) is a frugivore/seed predator with large upper and lower canines and a robust mandible. The frugivore/folivore Alouatta seniculus has a relatively large total molar area and effective mandibular condyle height. In all four of these strictly vegetarian species, the leverage of the masseter muscle is greater than that of temporalis.

Of the omnivorous species, Cebus apella and C. nigrivittatus exploit both fauna and seeds for protein and exhibit an array of many of the above features, such as large teeth and thick mandibles. Saimiri sciureus, not particularly known for seed predation, departs from Cebus in having less robust canines and a more gracile mandible. All three cebid omnivores have a temporalis with greater leverage than the masseter, indicating a requirement for resisting anteriorly directed forces, for example, using the jaws for vigorous foraging. The lack of any enlarged features, other than incisors, in the omnivorous Saguinus midas may be attributable to the functional constraints of small body size. Because the small size of the gape limits the size of the food parcel ingested, a requirement to enlarge other dentomandibular structures for trituration is alleviated.