Dental topography and diets of platyrrhine primates

Peter S. Ungar, Carrie Healy, Aleksis Karme, Mark Teaford, Mikael Fortelius

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


More than half a century ago, Percy Butler touted the importance of analyzing teeth to understand their function in an evolutionary context. There have been many advances in the study of dental functional morphology since that time. Here we review the various approaches to characterizing and comparing occlusal form that have been developed, especially dental topographic analysis. We also report on a new study of dental topography of platyrrhine primates (n = 341 individuals representing 16 species) with known differences in both dietary preferences and other food items eaten. Results indicate frugivores, gummivores, folivores, and seed eaters each have a unique combination of slope, relief, angularity, sharpness, and occlusal orientation patch size and count values. Likewise, among frugivores, those that supplement their diets with hard objects, insects, leaves, and seeds, also each have a distinctive suite of topographic features. We conclude that both primary and secondary diet choices select for occlusal form, and that functional morphology more reflects the types of foods and mechanical challenges they pose rather than the frequencies in which they are eaten.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)64-75
Number of pages12
JournalHistorical Biology
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Feb 17 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • New World monkeys
  • food
  • teeth

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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