Conclusions

In this chapter, we have presented lemur tooth morphologies as having specific designs related to the material properties of the foods they consume. Of course, this relationship is not perfect, seen for example in the patterns of severe tooth wear in some taxa (e.g., L. catta) living in specific habitats and utilizing diets dominated by specific food sources. The simple model for optimal designs used here does not take into account phylogenetic history and physical heterogeneity of food items that appear in individual diets, or in various habitats used by members of the same species. The relative importance of specific food parts to tooth form is still a matter of some debate, and perhaps, can never be completely resolved given variation in diets between seasons and regional differences in food availability, even within a single subspecies or widely dispersed specific populations. What animals ultimately eat involves a dialogue between what they can eat (dictated by their morphology, in a broad sense) and what is available (determined by the environment), a dialogue also influenced by socioecology (e.g., female dominance, social rank).

Further research on food properties is clearly needed in many Malagasy lemur taxa, especially for those with wide geographic ranges (e.g., L. catta), and the nocturnal members of the radiation that are barely represented in this review. As seen in our discussion of ecology and dental health (i.e., tooth wear and loss), much of the data for the better-known forms (e.g., L. catta, P. v. verreauxi) come from long-term studies at a limited number of locations (e.g., Beza Mahafaly). Therefore, comprehensive research on food properties and feeding from a wide range of habitats is imperative. Further quantification of lemur tooth morphology is also required, especially for the smaller-bodied, nocturnal forms.

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