Diet and Tooth Morphology

Primates, like most mammals, possess heterodont dentitions, with virtually all taxa having incisors, canines, premolars, and molars (see reviews in Martin, 1990; Swindler, 2002; Tattersall, 1982). Living lemurs also share the derived tooth-comb with other members of the Strepsirhini (the aye-aye [Daubentonia mada-gascariensis] is the one exception [e.g., Martin, 1990; Swindler, 2002; Tattersall, 1982]). Despite sharing a common heritage likely resulting from a single ancestral colonization of Madagascar (e.g., Karanth et al., 2005; Yoder, 1994), the Malagasy lemurs display considerable variation in dental morphology across their radiation. In addition to expected differences in gross morphology and topography of the teeth, there are differences in tooth formulae. As seen in Table 1, the maximum primate dental formula of I^ C1 P3 M3, a derivation of the ancestral pla-cental mammal condition, is present in most lemurs, with secondary reductions in the indriids, Lepilemur, and Daubentonia (Martin, 1990).

In any discussion of functional relationships between diet and tooth form, the physical properties of foods play an important role. The primary function of teeth is to reduce food particle size for further digestion in the gut. This physical interaction occurs between foods of varying compositions and teeth that have designs suitable for efficiently breaking down those foods. Relationships between tooth morphology and the physical parameters of foods in primates have been well documented (Happel, 1988; Hiiemae and Crompton, 1985; e.g., Hylander, 1975; Kay, 1975, 1977, 1978; Kinzey and Norconk, 1990; Lucas, 1979, 2004; Maier, 1984; Rosenberger and Kinzey, 1976; Seligsohn, 1977; Strait, 1993; Wright, 2003; Yamashita, 1998b).

How a food fragments depends on its composition. Physical properties of foods include external properties, such as size and shape, and internal properties that are related to material composition (see Lucas, 2004, and Strait, 1997, for extended discussions). Fragmentation depends on the ability of the consumer to initiate and continue runaway crack formation in foods with particular mechanical properties. Tough foods are able to deform considerably before failing and

Impact of Ecology on Teeth of Extant Lemurs Table 1. Dental formulae for extant lemurs

Taxon Dental formula® Total number of teeth


Taxon Dental formula® Total number of teeth




C1 P3 M3/I2

C1 P3


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