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J Morphol. 1998 Feb;235(2):157-75.

Ontogeny, function, and scaling of the mandibular symphysis in papionin primates.

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


In vivo study of mastication in adult cercopithecine primates demonstrates a link between mandibular symphyseal form and resistance to "wishboning," or lateral transverse bending. Mechanical consideration of wishboning at the symphysis indicates exponentially higher stresses along the lingual surface with increasing symphyseal curvature. Lengthening the anteroposterior width of the symphysis acts to resist these higher loads. Interspecific adult cercopithecine allometries show that both symphyseal curvature and symphyseal width exhibit positive allometry relative to body mass. The experimental and allometric data support an hypothesis that the cercopithecine mandibular symphysis is designed to maintain functional equivalence--in this case dynamic strain similarity--in wishboning stress and strain magnitudes across adult cercopithecines. We test the hypothesis that functional equivalence during masticatory wishboning is maintained throughout ontogeny by calculating relative stress estimates from morphometric dimensions of the mandibular symphysis in two cercopithecine primates, Macaca fascicularis and M. nemestrina. Results indicate no significant differences in relative stress estimates among the two macaque ontogenies and an interspecific sample of adult papionin primates. Further, relative stress estimates do not change significantly throughout ontogeny in either species. These results offer the first evidence for the maintenance of functional equivalence in stress and strain levels during postnatal growth in a habitually loaded cranial structure. Scaling analyses demonstrate significant slope differences for both symphyseal curvature and width between the ontogenetic and interspecific samples. The distinct interspecific cercopithecine slopes are realized by a series of ontogenetic transpositions in both symphyseal curvature and width. Throughout papionin ontogeny, symphyseal curvature increases with less negative allometry, while symphysis width increases with less positive allometry versus the interspecific pattern. As symphyseal curvature and width are inversely proportional to one another in estimating relative stresses, functionally equivalent stress levels are maintained both ontogenetically and interspecifically, because the relatively slower rate of allometric increase in symphyseal curvature during growth is compensated for by a slower rate of allometric increase in symphyseal width. These results indicate the primacy of maintaining functional equivalence during growth and the need for ontogenetic data in understanding the evolutionary processes that affect form-function relations as well as the interspecific patterning of adult form across a clade.

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