International Journal of Primatology

, Volume 17, Issue 6, pp 909–932 | Cite as

Jaw morphology and function in living and fossil old world monkeys

  • Matthew J. Ravosa


This allometric investigation on a sample of 29 cercopithecine and 22 colobine taxa augments the data and implications of prior work on subfamilial variation in mandibular form and function in recent Cercopithecidae. To increase the size range encompassed by living cercopithecines and colobines, I included many of the larger-bodied fossil specimens. These analyses serve to fill a gap in our understanding of size-related changes in masticatory function and symphyseal morphology and curvature in extant and extinct Old World monkeys. Results of subfamilial scaling comparisons indicate that for a given jaw length, colobines possess significantly more robust corpora and symphyses than those of cercopithecines, especially at smaller sizes. Following from previous work, the most plausible explanation for why the subfamilies differ in relative corporeal and symphyseal dimensions is that colobine mandibles experience elevated loads and greater repetitive loading during mastication due, on average, to processing a diet of tough leaves and/or seeds. Although colobines have relatively larger symphyses, subfamilial analyses of symphyseal curvature demonstrate that they evince less symphyseal curvature vis-à-vis cercopithecines of a common size. Moreover, both subfamilies exhibit similar allometric changes in the degree of curvature, such that larger-bodied Old World monkeys have more curved symphyses than those of smaller taxa. Subfamilial scaling analyses also indicate that colobines possess a shorter M2 bite-point length relative to masseter lever-arm length, but not versus temporalis lever-arm length. Thus, as compared to cercopithecines, colobines can recruit less masseter-muscle force to produce similar bite forces during mastication. In both clades, M2 bite-point length scales with positive allometry relative to masseter lever-arm length, such that larger species are less efficient at generating molar bite forces. This seems especially important due to the lack of subfamily difference in M2 bite-point:temporalis lever-arm scaling (which is isometric across cercopithecids). A consideration of extinct cercopithecids indicates that many of the large-bodied papionins have more robust corpora, due perhaps to a diet which was of similar toughness to that of extant and extinct colobines. However, the biomechanical arrangements of the masseter and temporalis in all but one fossil cercopithecine and all of the fossil colobine specimens are much as predicted for a subfamilial member of its skull size. That most large-bodied papionins with tougher diets nonetheless maintain a less efficient jaw-muscle configuration may be due to stronger offsetting selection for increased relative canine size and gape.

key words

skull form masticatory biomechanics allometry scaling fossils 


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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Matthew J. Ravosa
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Cell and Molecular BiologyNorthwestern University Medical SchoolChicago
  2. 2.Department of ZoologyDivision of Mammals, Field Museum of Natural HistoryChicago

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