Diet and Mandibular Morphology in African Apes

Article

Investigations seeking to understand the relationship between mandibular form, function, and dietary behavior have focused on the mandibular corpus and symphysis. African apes vary along a gradient of folivory/frugivory, yet few studies have evaluated the morphology of the mandibular corpus and symphysis in these taxa, and the investigations have yielded mixed results. Specifically, studies using external metrics have identified differences in mandibular proportions that analysis of cortical bone distribution has not substantiated. I contribute to the ongoing debate on the relationship between jaw form and dietary behavior by comparing mandibular corporal and symphyseal shapes in African apes. Importantly, and in contrast to previous studies of African ape internal geometry, I include the Virunga mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei), the ape most specialized toward a folivorous diet. I test the hypotheses that 1) Gorilla beringei beringei always has significantly more robust mandibular corpora and symphyses, relative to mandibular length, than all other African apes and 2) all gorillas have significantly more robust mandibular corpora and symphyses, relative to mandibular length, than Pan. Results demonstrate that the folivorous mountain gorillas consistently exhibit a relatively wider mandibular symphysis and corpus than all other African apes. Furthermore, all gorillas consistently exhibit relatively more robust mandibular corporal and symphyseal dimensions than Pan. The results indicate that among African apes, mountain gorillas are better able to counter lateral transverse bending (wishboning) loads at the symphysis and torsional loads at the corpus. All gorillas are likewise better able to resist wishboning and vertical bending at the symphysis, and sagittal bending and torsion at the corpus, than Pan, findings that are consistent with masticating relatively tougher foods, repetitive loading of the jaws, or both. I offer possible explanations for the lack of concordance in results between studies that have analyzed the biomechanical properties of African ape mandibles and others that have relied on external metrics. More comprehensive study of the internal geometry of the mandible is needed to resolve whether African apes differ morphologically in ways predicted by dietary variation.

KEY WORDS

diet African apes chimpanzees gorillas mandible symphysis corpus 

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Community and Family Medicine, Duke University School of Medicine; Department of Biological AnthropologyDuke UniversityDurhamUSA

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