Dental topography of platyrrhines and prosimians: Convergence and contrasts

Julia M. Winchester, Doug M. Boyer, Elizabeth M. St. Clair, Ashley D. Gosselin-Ildari, Siobhán B. Cooke, Justin A. Ledogar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

68 Scopus citations


Dental topographic analysis is the quantitative assessment of shape of three-dimensional models of tooth crowns and component features. Molar topographic curvature, relief, and complexity correlate with aspects of feeding behavior in certain living primates, and have been employed to investigate dietary ecology in extant and extinct primate species. This study investigates whether dental topography correlates with diet among a diverse sample of living platyrrhines, and compares platyrrhine topography with that of prosimians. We sampled 111 lower second molars of 11 platyrrhine genera and 121 of 20 prosimian genera. For each tooth we calculated Dirichlet normal energy (DNE), relief index (RFI), and orientation patch count (OPCR), quantifying surface curvature, relief, and complexity respectively. Shearing ratios and quotients were also measured. Statistical analyses partitioned effects of diet and taxon on topography in platyrrhines alone and relative to prosimians. Discriminant function analyses assessed predictive diet models. Results indicate that platyrrhine dental topography correlates to dietary preference, and platyrrhine-only predictive models yield high rates of accuracy. The same is true for prosimians. Topographic variance is broadly similar among platyrrhines and prosimians. One exception is that platyrrhines display higher average relief and lower relief variance, possibly related to lower relative molar size and functional links between relief and tooth longevity distinct from curvature or complexity. Explicitly incorporating phylogenetic distance matrices into statistical analyses of the combined platyrrhine-prosimian sample results in loss of significance of dietary effects for OPCR and SQ, while greatly increasing dietary significance of RFI.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)29-44
Number of pages16
JournalAmerican journal of physical anthropology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Dirichlet normal energy
  • dental functional morphology
  • dietary inference
  • orientation patch count rotated
  • platyrrhines
  • relief index

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Anthropology


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