Dietary correlates of temporomandibular joint morphology in New World primates.

Research paper by Claire E CE Terhune

Indexed on: 17 Sep '11Published on: 17 Sep '11Published in: Journal of Human Evolution


Previous analyses of the masticatory apparatus have demonstrated that the shape of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is functionally and adaptively linked to variation in feeding behavior and diet in primates. Building on previous research, this study presents an analysis of the link between diet and TMJ morphology in the context of functional and dietary differences among New World primates. To evaluate this proposed relationship, I used three-dimensional morphometric methods to quantify TMJ shape across a sample of 13 platyrrhine species. A broad interspecific analysis of this sample found strong relationships among TMJ size, TMJ shape, and diet, suggesting that both size and diet are significant factors influencing TMJ morphology in New World primates. However, it is likely that at least some of these differences are related to a division of dietary categories along clade lines. A series of hypotheses related to load resistance capabilities and range of motion in the TMJ were then tested among small groups of closely related taxa with documented dietary differences. These pairwise analyses indicate that some aspects of TMJ morphology can be used to differentiate among closely related species with different diets. However, not all of my predictions were upheld. The anteroposterior dimensions of the TMJ were most strongly consistent with hypothesized differences in ingestive/masticatory behaviors and jaw gape, whereas the predictions generated for variation in entoglenoid and articular tubercle height were not upheld. These results imply that while some features can be reliably associated with increased load resistance and facilitation of wider jaw gapes in the masticatory apparatus, other features are less strongly correlated with masticatory function.