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Ontogenetic variation in the mandibular ramus of great apes and humans



Considerable variation exists in mandibular ramus form among primates, particularly great apes and humans. Recent analyses of adult ramal morphology have suggested that features on the ramus, especially the coronoid process and sigmoid notch, can be treated as phylogenetic characters that can be used to reconstruct relationships among great ape and fossil hominin taxa. Others have contended that ramal morphology is more influenced by function than phylogeny. In addition, it remains unclear how ontogeny of the ramus contributes to adult variation in great apes and humans. Specifically, it is unclear whether differences among adults appear early and are maintained throughout ontogeny, or if these differences appear, or are enhanced, during later development. To address these questions, the present study examined a broad ontogenetic sample of great apes and humans using two-dimensional geometric morphometric analysis. Variation within and among species was summarized using principal component and thin plate spline analyses, and Procrustes distances and discriminant function analyses were used to statistically compare species and age classes. Results suggest that morphological differences among species in ramal morphology appear early in ontogeny and persist into adulthood. Morphological differences among adults are particularly pronounced in the height and angulation of the coronoid process, the depth and anteroposterior length of the sigmoid notch, and the inclination of the ramus. In all taxa, the ascending ramus of the youngest specimens is more posteriorly inclined in relation to the occlusal plane, shifting to become more upright in adults. These results suggest that, although there are likely functional influences over the form of the coronoid process and ramus, the morphology of this region can be profitably used to differentiate among great apes, modern humans, and fossil hominid taxa. J. Morphol. 275:661–677, 2014. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.