Primate dental ecology: How teeth respond to the environment



Teeth are central for the study of ecology, as teeth are at the direct interface between an organism and its environment. Recent years have witnessed a rapid growth in the use of teeth to understand a broad range of topics in living and fossil primate biology. This in part reflects new techniques for assessing ways in which teeth respond to, and interact with, an organism's environment. Long-term studies of wild primate populations that integrate dental analyses have also provided a new context for understanding primate interactions with their environments. These new techniques and long-term field studies have allowed the development of a new perspective—dental ecology. We define dental ecology as the broad study of how teeth respond to, or interact with, the environment. This includes identifying patterns of dental pathology and tooth use–wear, as they reflect feeding ecology, behavior, and habitat variation, including areas impacted by anthropogenic disturbance, and how dental development can reflect environmental change and/or stress. The dental ecology approach, built on collaboration between dental experts and ecologists, holds the potential to provide an important theoretical and practical framework for inferring ecology and behavior of fossil forms, for assessing environmental change in living populations, and for understanding ways in which habitat impacts primate growth and development. This symposium issue brings together experts on dental morphology, growth and development, tooth wear and health, primate ecology, and paleontology, to explore the broad application of dental ecology to questions of how living and fossil primates interact with their environments. Am J Phys Anthropol 148:159–162, 2012. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.