• folivory;
  • platyrrhines;
  • dietary adaptation;
  • Howler monkeys;
  • Muriqui;
  • Alouatta;
  • Brachyteles;
  • primate origins


Among living New World monkeys, Howlers and Muriquis are by far the most folivorous. We examine how well the morphology and behavior of Alouatta and Brachyteles conform to leaf-eating adaptational models derived from other studies. Both genera match these expectations unevenly, which suggests a broader conception of primate folivory is in order. Hence the notion of “semifolivory.” While their dentitions prove highly sensitive to selection for leaf-eating, core features relating to body size, brain size, ranging behavior and presumed energy budgets are less predictable corollaries. Leaf-eating in atelines and colobines may have evolved from a preadaptive reliance on seed-eating, which would have necessitated comparable gastric adaptations. Fossils suggest semifolivory in the low-energy Howler lineage may have begun with an increase in body size, a relatively small brain and, possibly, a concomitantly enlarged gut, followed by dental adaptations. It may have advanced via body-size reduction, part of a pioneering adaptation in marginal ecologies on the periphery of rich Amazonian habitats or as a strategy to minimize competition among an abundance of frugivores within the lowland forest—perhaps not as a fallback scheme. In the high-energy Muriqui, semifolivory may have evolved in more intensely seasonal, low-yield forests where frugivores were constrained and rare, a model more consistent with the fallback paradigm. The seed-to-leaves evolutionary pathway hypothesized for anthropoid leaf-eaters may be a widespread phenomenon in primates. We propose it is ultimately rooted in a pre-euprimate reliance on the seeds and seed coats of primitive angiosperms before the latter evolved attractive sugary fruits to coax primates into becoming dispersers of seeds, instead consumers. Anat Rec, 2011. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.