As discussed above, tooth form is primarily related to the material components of the foods encountered. The heterogeneity found in the cheek teeth among lemur families is directly related to the mechanical variety of the foods they chew. The close relationship between tooth form and food properties increases efficiency, which is here defined as maximizing reduction of food particles with a minimum of time and energy. Molar efficiency has been investigated through analyses of strepsirhine (Kay and Sheine, 1979; Sheine and Kay, 1977) and marsupial (Moore and Sanson, 1995) fecal particles and cercopithecine stomach contents (Walker and Murray, 1975) that related finer size reduction to the presence of specific molar morphologies.
Diets, however, are usually mechanically quite variable, though they may be dominated by foods of a single property. Whether the properties of the most frequently eaten or the most mechanically stressful foods have the highest correlations with molar morphology is a matter of some debate (Kay, 1975; Kinzey, 1978; Rosenberger and Kinzey, 1976). The question has been framed to take into account seasonal differences in diets and food availability. Either the foods that are eaten during peak abundance are most related to the morphology, or those eaten during periods of scarcity, when animals are supposedly eating less preferred and more mechanically challenging foods ("fallback foods"), are more significant. An estimated 45% has been suggested as the minimum amount that an animal must eat of a food category in order for its mechanical properties to have an impact on tooth form (Kay, 1975). Rosenberger and Kinzey (1976) and Kinzey (1978) emphasize the importance of "critical" secondary dietary items that are eaten at times of resource scarcity. Tooth features that enable an animal to process foods during marginal periods are presumably under strong selection (Lambert et al., 2004). Yamashita (1998a) found that the most stressful foods were more highly correlated with molar features than the most frequently eaten foods, though the result was not applicable to all tooth features (e.g., crest lengths).
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