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Keywords:

  • dental wear;
  • ecological disequilibrium;
  • habitat variation;
  • Propithecus edwardsi

Abstract

Not only can teeth provide clues about diet, but they also can be indicators of habitat quality. Conspecific groups living in different habitats with different kinds of foods may exhibit different rates of dental attrition because their teeth are less well adapted to some foods than to others. Ecological disequilibrium describes the situation in which animals live in habitats to which they are relatively poorly adapted. We test whether dental senescence, the wear-related decrease in dental functionality that is associated with decreased survival of infants born to older Propithecus edwardsi females, can be explained by ecological disequilibrium. Specifically, we compare the rates of dental wear in sifaka groups living in nearby habitats that differ in the degree of anthropogenically induced disturbance. We hypothesize that sifakas living in disturbed areas have an unusual rate of tooth wear compared to those living in a more pristine area, and that dental senescence is a consequence of an atypically high wear rate in a degraded habitat. To test whether habitat quality affects tooth wear more generally, we compare rates of use-wear in two subsets of Microcebus rufus living in either relatively undisturbed or disturbed habitats. Contrary to our predictions, we did not detect different rates of tooth wear in disturbed versus undisturbed habitats for either species and consider that reproductively detrimental dental senescence in P. edwardsi females is unlikely to be a pathological consequence of ecological disequilibrium. Am J Phys Anthropol 148:228–237, 2012. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.