Biomechanical scaling of the hominoid mandibular symphysis



Experimental investigation of mandibular bone strain in cercopithecine primates has established that the mandible is bent in the transverse plane during the power stroke of mastication. Additional comparative work also supports the assumption that the morphology of the mandibular symphysis is functionally linked to the biomechanics of lateral transverse bending, or “wishboning” of the mandibular corpus. There are currently no experimental data to verify that lateral transverse bending constitutes an important loading regime among hominoid primates. There are, however, allometric models from cercopithecoid primates that allow prediction of scaling patterns in hominoid mandibular dimensions that would be consistent with a mechanical environment that includes wishboning as a significant component. This study uses computed tomography (CT) scans to visualize cortical bone distribution in the anterior corpus of a sample of four genera of extant hominoids. From the cortical bone contours, area properties of the mandibular symphysis are calculated, and these variables are subjected to an allometric analysis to detect whether scaling of jaw dimensions are consistent with a wishboning loading regime. Scaling of the hominoid symphysis recalls patterns observed in cercopithecoid monkeys, which lends indirect support for the hypothesis that wishboning is an integral part of the masticatory loading environment in living apes. Inclination of the symphysis, rather than changes in cross-sectional shape or development of the superior transverse torus, represents a morphological solution for minimizing the potentially harmful effects of wishboning in the jaws of these primates. J. Morphol. 250:12–23, 2001. © 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.