, Volume 50, Issue 3, pp 221-230

Buccal dental microwear variability in extant African Hominoidea: taxonomy versus ecology

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Abstract

Buccal microwear patterns on teeth are good indicators of the abrasiveness of foodstuffs and have been used to trace the dietary habits of fossil species, including primates and hominids. However, few studies have addressed the variability of this microwear. The abrasiveness of dietary components depends not only on the hardness of the particles ingested, but also on the presence of dust and other exogenous elements introduced during food processing. These elements are responsible for the microwear typology observed on the enamel surfaces of primate teeth. Here we analyzed the variability of buccal microwear patterns in African Great Apes (Gorilla gorilla and Pan troglodytes), using tooth molds obtained from the original specimens held in several osteological collections. Our results suggest that ecological adaptations at subspecies or population level account for differences in microwear patterns, which are attributed to habitat and ecological conditions within populations rather than differences between species. The findings from studies on the variability of buccal dental microwear in extant species will contribute to a better understanding of extinct hominids’ diet and ecology.