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Keywords:

  • food mechanical properties;
  • fecal particle size;
  • dental topography;
  • fallback foods

ABSTRACT

Chewing efficiency has been associated with fitness in mammals, yet little is known about the behavioral, ecological, and morphological factors that influence chewing efficiency in wild animals. Although research has established that dental wear and food material properties independently affect chewing efficiency, few studies have addressed the interaction among these factors. We examined chewing efficiency, measured as mean fecal particle size, as a function of seasonal shifts in diet (and corresponding changes in food fracture toughness) in a single breeding population of a grazing primate, the gelada monkey, at Guassa, Ethiopia. We also measured dental topographic traits (slope, angularity, and relief index) and relative two- and three-dimensional shearing crest lengths in a cross-sectional wear series of gelada molars. Chewing efficiency decreased during the dry season, a pattern corresponding to the consumption of foods with higher fracture toughness. Older individuals experienced the most pronounced decreases in chewing efficiency between seasons, implicating dental wear as a causal factor. This pattern is consistent with our finding that dental topographic metrics and three-dimensional relative shearing crest lengths were lowest at the last stage of wear. Integrating these lines of behavioral, ecological, and morphological evidence provides some of the first empirical support for the hypothesis that food fracture toughness and dental wear together contribute to chewing efficiency. Geladas have the highest chewing efficiencies measured thus far in primates, and may be analogous to equids in their emphasis on dental design as a means of particle size reduction in the absence of highly specialized digestive physiology. Am J Phys Anthropol 155:17–32, 2014. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.