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The impact of dental impairment on ring-tailed lemur food processing performance



During mastication, foods are reduced into particles suitable for swallowing and digestion. Smaller particles possess a greater surface area per unit of volume on which digestive enzymes and bacteria may work than relatively larger particles, and are thus more readily digested. As dental morphology facilitates the breakdown of diets with specific mechanical properties, extensive dental wear and/or tooth loss may impede an individual's ability to break down and exploit foods. We present data demonstrating a relationship between dental impairment and particle size in 43 fecal samples from 33 ring-tailed lemurs at the Beza Mahafaly Special Reserve (BMSR), Madagascar. All fecal samples were sifted through three sieves of decreasing size (11.2 mm, 4.75 mm, and 1.0 mm). The resulting fraction in each sieve was then weighed and assessed in relation to individual dental impairment status. With increasing wear, the percentage of each sample within the 1.0 mm sieve decreases, whereas that in the 11.2 mm sieve increases with increasing postcanine wear, although these effects are not present when limited to individuals without tooth loss. Individuals with tooth loss also demonstrate larger proportions of fecal material 1.0–4.75 mm in size. Dental impairment results in larger food particles and potentially less efficient utilization of foods. When fecal material was examined by leaf vs. fruit content, individuals with tooth loss demonstrated reduced proportions of fruit in the 1.0 mm and 11.2 mm sieves. These data suggest individuals with tooth loss consume less fruit than those without loss, potentially reflecting a reduced ability to process tamarind fruit, a key fallback resource at BMSR. Am J Phys Anthropol 148:238–248, 2012. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.