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J Morphol. 1996 Aug;229(2):171-90.

Mandibular form and function in North American and European Adapidae and Omomyidae.

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


Previous experimental and comparative studies among a wide variety of primate and nonprimate mammals provide a unique source of information for investigating the functional and phylogenetic significance of variation in the masticatory apparatus of Eocene primates. To provide a quantitative study of mandibular form and function in Eocene primates, the scaling of jaw dimensions and the development of symphyseal fusion was considered in a broad sample of North American and European Adapidae and Omomyidae. Statistical analyses indicate a significant size-related pattern of symphyseal fusion across Eocene primates, with larger taxa often having a greater degree of fusion than smaller species; this trend is also evident at the family level. As adapids are mostly larger than omomyids and these taxa show allometry of symphyseal fusion, this may explain why no omomyids evince complete fusion. Controlling for jaw size, species with greater symphyseal fusion tend to have more robust jaws than those with a lesser amount of fusion. Upon further examination, a primary reason why adapids have more robust mandibles than omomyids is associated with the presence of taxa with fused symphyses, and thus more robust jaws, in the adapid sample, whereas no omomyids have fused symphyses. In addition, there is little indication of a dietary effect, as measured by molar shear-crest development, on symphyseal fusion. Moreover, as there is no correlation between molar shear-crest development and skull size, this also points to the absence of a size-related pattern of dietary preference underlying the allometry of symphyseal fusion. Based on the interspecific and ontogenetic allometry of symphyseal ossification in Eocene primates, jaw-scaling patterns are used to further examine the functional determinants of fusion in this group. This study indicates that greater dorsoventral shear during mastication is a more likely factor than lateral transverse bending ("wishboning") in the evolution of symphyseal fusion among "late-fusing" mammals like adapids and omomyids. Given that wishboning is an important functional determinant of symphyseal form in recent anthropoids, apparently the evolutionary development of marked wishboning occurs only in taxa that shift the timing of fusion to a growth stage preceding the onset of weaning (before adult masticatory patterns are fully developed) and perhaps first ossified the symphysis to counter elevated dorsoventral shear stress. As early anthropoids probably consisted of members varying interspecifically and ontogenetically in the degree of ossification, it is especially informative to analyze the adaptive setting in which anthropoid symphyseal fusion evolved from a similar primitive "prosimian" perspective. Finally, since taxa with fused symphyses are widely distributed across mammals, a similar analytical framework could be directed profitably at unraveling the functional and evolutionary significance of symphyseal fusion in other mammalian clades.

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