Biting mechanics and niche separation in a specialized clade of primate seed predators

Justin A. Ledogar, Theodora H.Y. Luk, Jonathan M.G. Perry, Dimitri Neaux, Stephen Wroe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We analyzed feeding biomechanics in pitheciine monkeys (Pithecia, Chiropotes, Cacajao), a clade that specializes on hard-husked unripe fruit (sclerocarpy) and resistant seeds (seed predation). We tested the hypothesis that pitheciine crania are well-suited to generate and withstand forceful canine and molar biting, with the prediction that they generate bite forces more efficiently and better resist masticatory strains than the closely-related Callicebus, which does not specialize on unripe fruits and/or seeds. We also tested the hypothesis that Callicebus-Pithecia-Chiropotes-Cacajao represent a morphocline of increasing sclerocarpic specialization with respect to biting leverage and craniofacial strength, consistent with anterior dental morphology. We found that pitheciines have higher biting leverage than Callicebus and are generally more resistant to masticatory strain. However, Cacajao was found to experience high strain magnitudes in some facial regions. We therefore found limited support for the morphocline hypothesis, at least with respect to the mechanical performance metrics examined here. Biting leverage in Cacajao was nearly identical (or slightly less than) in Chiropotes and strain magnitudes during canine biting were more likely to follow a Cacajao-Chiropotes-Pithecia trend of increasing strength, in contrast to the proposed morphocline. These results could indicate that bite force efficiency and derived anterior teeth were selected for in pitheciines at the expense of increased strain magnitudes. However, our results for Cacajao potentially reflect reduced feeding competition offered by allopatry with other pitheciines, which allows Cacajao species to choose from a wider variety of fruits at various stages of ripeness, leading to reduction in the selection for robust facial features. We also found that feeding biomechanics in sympatric Pithecia and Chiropotes are consistent with data on food structural properties and observations of dietary niche separation, with the former being well-suited for the regular molar crushing of hard seeds and the latter better adapted for breaching hard fruits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0190689
JournalPloS one
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General

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