Send to

Choose Destination
J Hum Evol. 2000 May;38(5):667-93.

Masticatory stress, orbital orientation and the evolution of the primate postorbital bar.

Author information

Department of Cell and Molecular Biology, Northwestern University Medical School, Chicago, Illinois 60611-3008, USA.


A postorbital bar is one of a suite of derived features which distinguishes basal primates from their putative sister taxon, plesiadapiforms. Two hypotheses have been put forward to explain postorbital bar development and variation in circumorbital form: the facial torsion model and visual predation hypothesis. To test the facial torsion model, we employ strain data on circumorbital and mandibular loading patterns in representative primates with a postorbital bar and masticatory apparatus similar to basal primates. To examine the visual predation hypothesis, we employ metric data on orbit orientation in Paleocene and Eocene primates, as well as several clades of visual predators and foragers that vary interspecifically in postorbital bar formation.A comparison of galago circumorbital and mandibular peak strains during powerful mastication demonstrates that circumorbital strains are quite low. This indicates that, as in anthropoids, the strepsirhine circumorbital region is excessively overbuilt for countering routine masticatory loads. The fact that circumorbital peak-strain levels are uniformly low in both primate suborders undermines any model which posits that masticatory stresses are determinants of circumorbital form, function and evolution. This is interpreted to mean that sufficient cortical bone must exist to prevent structural failure due to non-masticatory traumatic forces. Preliminary data also indicate that the difference between circumorbital and mandibular strains is greater in larger taxa.Comparative analyses of several extant analogs suggest that the postorbital bar apparently provides rigidity to the lateral orbital margins to ensure a high level of visual acuity during chewing and biting. The origin of the primate postorbital bar is linked to changes in orbital convergence and frontation at smaller sizes due to nocturnal visual predation and increased encephalization. By incorporating in vivo and fossil data, we reformulate the visual predation hypothesis of primate origins and thus offer new insights into major adaptive transformations in the primate skull.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Elsevier Science
Loading ...
Support Center