The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)

Having their cake and eating it, too—the role of dental specialization in saki feeding ecology


Anthropology & School of Biomedical Sciences, Kent State University

Thursday 8:30-8:45, Broadway III/IV Add to calendar

Primates in several radiations exhibit dental adaptations that enable them to gain access to seeds embedded in well-protected fruit. To a database drawn from published sources in which hardness of fruit and seeds were tested in the field using equivalent devices, we added an additional 100+ species of plants used as resources by pitheciin primates, specifically, South American white-faced sakis (Pithecia pithecia) and bearded sakis (Chiropotes spp.). This sample allowed us to compare hardness of fruit and seeds and deduce the relative incisive and masticatory functional capability of several primate taxa (New World monkeys, Old World monkeys, prosimians and chimpanzees). Average mechanical resistance values (kg/mm2) of sakis (Chiropotes spp. and Pithecia pithecia) is equivalent to reported values of fruit opened by larger-bodied Old World seed predators—Lophocebus and Cercocebus. However, baboons and chimpanzees masticate seeds that are two to three orders of magnitude harder than sakis or mangabeys. In spite of their puncture abilities, approximately 40% of foods ingested by pitheciins were in the range of a ripe fruit eater (Ateles paniscus). This raises the possibility that pitheciins exemplify Liem’s paradox, i.e., “that phenotypic specialization [is] not accompanied by ecological specialization” (Robinson and Wilson, 1998:224). On the other hand, sakis appear to exemplify what most primates do well—respond flexibly to shifting resource types and availability. Saki/uakari dental specializations may enable them to have their cake and eat it, too.

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