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Keywords:

  • infraorbital nerve;
  • maxillary mechanoreception;
  • diet;
  • frugivory;
  • fossil record

Abstract

The infraorbital foramen (IOF) transmits the infraorbital nerve (ION) to specialized sensory cells (mechanoreceptors) in the maxillary region. The size of the IOF has been used in numerous paleoecological interpretations of the fossil record. However, these interpretations have been applied without an explicit analysis of the relationship between ecological variables and the IOF. ION and IOF cross-sectional area show a strong positive correlation. As a result, IOF area can be a proxy for ION area, and it is hypothesized that IOF area may be a good measure for maxillary somatosensory acuity. Differences in diet, substrate preference, and/or activity pattern have been shown to correlate with differences in maxillary somatosensory acuity among mammals. This study examines how IOF area covaries with different ecological variables. IOF area was measured for 89 primate species. Ecological profiles were also created for each species and used to evaluate interspecific variation in relative IOF area within each ecological category. The results show a significant relationship between relative IOF area and diet, but not substrate preference or activity pattern. Frugivores have significantly larger relative IOFs than either folivores or insectivores, but the relative IOFs of folivores and insectivores do not differ significantly from one another. These results partially support the hypothesis that maxillary mechanoreception is a critical sensory cue for primates within a feeding context. Results for this study suggest the IOF can be used as an informative character in some paleoecological interpretations of the primate fossil record. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2010. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.