Palaeobiodiversity and Palaeoenvironments

, Volume 92, Issue 4, pp 573–583 | Cite as

Understanding Eocene primate palaeobiology using a comprehensive analysis of living primate ecology, biology and behaviour

  • Michelle L. SautherEmail author
  • Frank P. Cuozzo
Original Paper


The comparative method is central to interpretations of Eocene primate palaeobiology. This method rests upon a thorough study of analogous living forms. With a rapidly increasing knowledge of such forms, most notably the Malagasy lemurs, our ability to advance the study of Eocene primate ecology, biology and behaviour far exceeds that of even just a few years ago. Here we present such a comparison. Based on our data collected from both living lemurs and extant lemur skeletal specimens, we are able to make a number of comparisons that provide insight into middle Eocene primate ecology and palaeobiology. At the Beza Mahafaly Special Reserve, Madagascar, omnivorous living ring-tailed lemurs that feed on large, hard and tough fruits display a pattern of frequent post-canine tooth wear laterality (62 %) when compared to sympatric, folivorous Verreaux’s sifaka (4 %). Our results indicate that Notharctus does not display a high frequency of tooth wear laterality (7 %), indicating folivory without processing large, hard fruits with its postcanines. Our data on Notharctus tooth wear also indicate, similar to living ring-tailed lemurs at Beza Mahafaly, that numerous individuals (21 %) survived long enough to experience heavy tooth wear, contrary to the assumption that heavy tooth wear leads to the rapid death of the individual. Finally, our data on trauma and injury from a living lemur population suggest that the reported wrist injury in Darwinius masillae (i.e. “Ida”) did not necessarily lead to her death, as numerous ring-tailed lemurs at Beza Mahafaly survive with similar or even more traumatic injuries and maintain the ability to climb. Thus, our data from living primates provide a broad comparative framework for interpreting the ecology, biology and behaviour of Eocene forms.


Lemur Dental ecology Notharctus Darwinius Laterality 



We thank the organisers of the 22nd Annual Senckenberg Conference, most specifically Dr. Thomas Lehmann and Dr. Virgine Volpato, for organising a wonderful conference, and for their help with our abstract submission and registration. We are also grateful to Dr. Wighart von Koenigswald for his assistance with coordinating our attending the meeting in Frankfurt. We thank the many field and laboratory assistants, veterinary personnel and Malagasy colleagues who have aided our work in Madagascar from 2003 to 2011, and whom we have acknowledged in our previous publications. We thank the curatorial staffs at the American Museum of Natural History, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and the United States National Museum of Natural History for access to the Eocene primate specimens we discuss herein. We also thank the curatorial staffs at the American Museum of Natural History, the United States National Museum of Natural History, the Natural History Museum (London), Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology and the Museum für Naturkunde (Berlin) for access to the extant lemur specimens used in our analyses. We especially thank Greg Gunnell and Chris Beard for their thoughtful and helpful comments on our paper. Our work in Madagascar and the collection of museum data from 2003 to 2012 have been supported by the University of North Dakota (SSAC; Faculty Seed Money Award; Arts, Sciences and Humanities Award), ND EPSCoR, Primate Conservation Inc., The International Primatological Society, The St. Louis Zoo (FRC 06-1), The University of Colorado–Boulder (IGP and CRCW), The National Geographic Society, the American Society of Primatologists, The Lindbergh Fund and the United States National Science Foundation (BCS 0922465). All work with living lemurs in Madagascar was conducted with IACUC approval from the University of North Dakota and/or the University of Colorado–Boulder, with approval by Madagascar's governing authorities (ANGAP and/or MNP) and with CITES authorization.


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Copyright information

© Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung and Springer 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of ColoradoBoulderUSA
  2. 2.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of North DakotaGrand ForksUSA

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