Analyzing the sclerocarpy adaptations of the Pitheciidae mandible


Primates are interpreted to be ancestrally adapted to frugivory, although some modern groups show clear adaptations to other diets. Among them, pitheciids stand out for specifically predating seeds. This dietary specialization is known as sclerocarpy and refers to the extraction of seeds from surrounding hard tissues using the anterior dentition followed by the mastication of seeds by the molars. It has been proposed that Callicebus-Pithecia-Chiropotes-Cacajao represent a morphocline of increasingly specialized anatomical traits for sclerocarpic foraging. This study addresses whether there is a sclerocarpic specialization gradient in the mandibular morphology of pitheciids. Finite element analysis (FEA) was used to simulate two biting scenarios and the obtained stress values were compared between different pitheciids. Geometric morphometrics (GM) were used to display the morphological variation of this group. No support was found for the morphocline hypothesis from a biomechanical viewpoint since all pitheciins showed similar stress values and on average Chiropotes rather than Cacajao exhibited the strongest mandible. From a morphological perspective, it was found that there is indeed relative “robusticity” continuum in the pitheciid mandible for some aspects of shape as expected for the morphocline hypothesis, but this gradient could be related to other factors rather than sclerocarpic specialization. The present results are expected to contribute to a better insight regarding the ecomorphological relationship between mandibular morphology and mechanical performance among pitheciids.

In American Journal of Primatology 159,325–341 (2016)
Thomas A. Püschel
Thomas A. Püschel
Postdoctoral researcher

I am an evolutionary anthropologist and vertebrate palaeobiologist mainly focused on human, primate and mammalian evolution. My main interest is to study organismal evolution by reconstructing and comparing the palaeobiology of fossils to their living ecological relatives. In order to do this, I apply a combination of phylogenetics, 3D morphometrics, virtual biomechanical techniques, computational simulations, statistical modelling, phylogenetic comparative methods, and fieldwork. I am part of the Venditti group, University of Reading, within the framework of the Leverhulme project ‘The evolutionary and biogeographical routes to hominin diversity’. I am also a research affiliate at the Institute of Human Sciences, University of Oxford, where I work together with the Paleo-Primate Project Gorongosa, Mozambique.