Dental topography and molar wear in Alouatta palliata from Costa Rica

John C. Dennis, Peter S. Ungar, Mark F. Teaford, Kenneth E. Glander

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Paleoprimatologists depend on relationships between form and function of teeth to reconstruct the diets of fossil species. Most of this work has been limited to studies of unworn teeth. A new approach, dental topographic analysis, allows the characterization and comparison of worn primate teeth. Variably worn museum specimens have been used to construct species-specific wear sequences so that measurements can be compared by wear stage among taxa with known differences in diet. This assumes that individuals in a species tend to wear their molar teeth in similar ways, a supposition that has yet to be tested. Here we evaluate this assumption with a longitudinal study of changes in tooth form over time in primates. Fourteen individual mantled howling monkeys (Alouatta palliata) were captured and then recaptured after 2, 4, and 7 years when possible at Hacienda La Pacifica in Costa Rica between 1989-1999. Dental impressions were taken each time, and molar casts were produced and analyzed using dental topographic analysis. Results showed consistent decreases in crown slope and occlusal relief. In contrast, crown angularity, a measure of surface jaggedness, remained fairly constant except with extreme wear. There were no evident differences between specimens collected in different microhabitats. These results suggest that different individual mantled howling monkeys wear their teeth down in similar ways, evidently following a species-specific wear sequence. Dental topographic analysis may therefore be used to compare morphology among similarly worn individuals from different species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)152-161
Number of pages10
JournalAmerican journal of physical anthropology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 1 2004



  • Dental morphology
  • GIS
  • Howling monkeys

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Anthropology

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