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Keywords:

  • Symphyseal fusion;
  • Ontogeny;
  • Functional morphology;
  • Masticatory stress;
  • Jaw biomechanics;
  • Allometry;
  • Diet;
  • Subfossil lemurs

Abstract

Ontogenetic changes in the morphology of the mandibular symphysis are described in Archaeolemur so as to infer the functional significance of symphyseal fusion in this subfossil Malagasy lemur. The first regions of the symphysis to show a more complex morphology were the lower and anterior borders of the joint and, to a lesser extent, the lingual borders of the superior and inferior transverse tori. During growth, these regions became increasingly rugose and encroached upon a centrally located, smooth, “oval” region, which may have been a principal pathway for neurovascular structures communicating with the unfused joint. In subadults, the symphysis was completely fused except for the lingual surface of the inferior transverse torus, where a patent suture and potential space were present between dentaries. Thus, in Archaeolemur there was an age- and size-related pattern of increased symphyseal ossification or fusion that was complete by adulthood.

The morphology of the interlocking bony processes and the sequence of ossification in the symphysis suggest that increased dorsoventral shear stress during mastication was the most likely determinant of symphyseal fusion in Archaeolemur: The allometric pattern of greater symphyseal fusion may be linked to the presence of relatively greater dorsoventral shear in adults due to an increased recruitment of balancing-side jaw-muscle force. There is little indication that the symphysis of juvenile Archaeolemur was buttressed to resist forces associated with “wishboning” during mastication or vertical bending during incision. Our observations, as well as those of others, suggest that symphyseal fusion in primates occurs initially as a response to increased dorsoventral shear during mastication. Therefore, wishboning stress might only become a major determinant of symphyseal form and function in those taxa that develop a fused symphysis to counter increased dorsoventral shear. © 1994 Wiley-Liss, Inc.