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Functional links between canine height and jaw gape in catarrhines with special reference to early hominins

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Abstract

This study tests the hypothesis that decreased canine crown height in catarrhines is linked to (and arguably caused by) decreased jaw gape. Associations are characterized within and between variables such as upper and lower canine height beyond the occlusal plane (canine overlap), maximum jaw gape, and jaw length for 27 adult catarrhine species, including 539 living subjects and 316 museum specimens. The data demonstrate that most adult male catarrhines have relatively larger canine overlap dimensions and gapes than do conspecific females. For example, whereas male baboons open their jaws maximally more than 110% of jaw length, females open about 90%. Humans and hylobatids are the exceptions in that canine overlap is nearly the same in both the sexes and so is relative gape (ca. 65% for humans and 110% for hylobatids). A correlation analysis demonstrates that a large portion of relative gape (maximum gape/projected jaw length) is predicted by relative canine overlap (canine overlap/jaw length). Relative gape is mainly a function of jaw muscle position and/or jaw muscle-fiber length. All things equal, more rostrally positioned jaw muscles and/or shorter muscle fibers decrease gape and increase bite force during the power stroke of mastication, and the net benefit is to increase the mechanical efficiency during chewing. Similarly, more caudally positioned muscles and/or longer muscle fibers increase the amount of gape and decrease bite force. Overall, the data support the hypothesis that canine reduction in early hominins is functionally linked to decreased gape and increased mechanical efficiency of the jaws. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2013. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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