Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Researchers Test Canine Tooth Strength for Clues to Behavior of Early Human Ancestors

27.06.2008
Research funded by the National Science Foundation and led by University of Arkansas anthropologist Michael Plavcan takes us one step closer to understanding the relationship between canine teeth, body size and the lives of primates.

Measuring and testing the teeth of living primates could provide a window into the behavior of the earliest human ancestors, based on their fossilized remains. Research funded by the National Science Foundation and led by University of Arkansas anthropologist Michael Plavcan takes us one step closer to understanding the relationship between canine teeth, body size and the lives of primates.

In an article published in American Journal of Physical Anthropology, Plavcan and colleague Christopher B. Ruff of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine report on an initial examination of the function of the shape of canine teeth in primates. This is the first published comparative analysis of canine strength for primates.

Understanding more about the function of canine teeth can lead to new models for understanding human evolution. Plavcan has been studying primate teeth and skulls for 24 years and spent four years collecting dental data for this analysis.

... more about:
»Hominid »Plavcan »carnivore »primate »teeth

The researchers compared the size, shape and strength of canine teeth from 144 primates with similar measurements taken from 45 carnivores. They examined the relationship of the size of primates’ canines to body size and the relative strength of the teeth. This comparison could help answer the speculation about the function of male primates’ canine teeth in the competition for females. Are the canines used as weapons or simply for display?

“The reason we wanted to use the carnivores is that we know carnivores use their canines for killing,” Plavcan said. “If primates’ canines are too weak to function as weapons, then they’re all just for show.”

Among anthropoid primates, it is well known that the canine teeth of males are up to four times as long as those of females. The researchers compared the canine teeth of male and female primates.

“If the male’s canines are stronger than the female’s canines that would imply there is sexual selection for strength and that the tooth is actually used as a weapon,” Plavcan said. “Female’s canines are short, and shorter, stubbier objects are harder to break. So, if the long, thin male canines are as strong or stronger than those of the female, that would also suggest they are capable of being used for fighting.”

The results were mixed in an interesting way.

“We found that the primate canines are generally as strong as or stronger than carnivore canines," Plavcan said. “But they are not associated with any sort of estimate of sexual selection.”

Generally the canines of males and females were equally strong. Given that primates have such strong teeth in general, the researchers suggested a couple of possible explanations. It could be that all primate males have strong teeth because of a significant risk to reproductive success for any male who breaks a canine tooth. Or it could be that the strong teeth are due to basic inherited design.

Hominids – the primate family that produced humans – retain body mass sexual dimorphism; that is, males typically have a greater body mass size than females. At the same time, the difference in size in canine teeth between males and females is lost.

“This goes back to the earliest hominids,” Plavcan said. “In fact, one of the few diagnostic characteristics of hominid evolution is reduction in canine size dimorphism while maintaining strong body mass dimorphism.”

For example, gorillas have chunky teeth set in massive bodies. To have canines proportionately as long as other primates, a male gorilla’s canines would have to be 25 centimeters long, and the teeth at the base would then be too wide for his jaw.

“This suggests that there may be an upper limit on canine size in primates simply due to spatial constraints on fitting such teeth in the jaws,” the researchers wrote.

The difference in body size between male and female hominids has been the subject of study because it is an obvious and important trait. Yet there are drawbacks to using body size to understand sexual selection. A change in body size can impact many other aspects of life, including metabolism, feeding patterns and vulnerability to predators. Canine teeth, on the other hand, are a far simpler system.

“With canines, we can go in and effectively construct an experiment that allows us to control for all these other variables and look at only one thing,” Plavcan said. “The same phenomenon that works on the canines, we can translate into the body mass and then into behavioral models for the fossil record.”

Plavcan is an associate professor of anthropology in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Arkansas. He and Ruff are authors of “Canine Size, Shape, and Bending Strength in Primates and Carnivores” in the May issue of American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

CONTACT:
J. Michael Plavcan, associate professor, anthropology
J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences
(479) 575-2546, mplavcan@uark.edu

Barbara Jaquish | newswise
Further information:
http://www.uark.edu

Further reports about: Hominid Plavcan carnivore primate teeth

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht New eDNA technology used to quickly assess coral reefs
18.04.2019 | University of Hawaii at Manoa

nachricht New automated biological-sample analysis systems to accelerate disease detection
18.04.2019 | Polytechnique Montréal

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Explosion on Jupiter-sized star 10 times more powerful than ever seen on our sun

A stellar flare 10 times more powerful than anything seen on our sun has burst from an ultracool star almost the same size as Jupiter

  • Coolest and smallest star to produce a superflare found
  • Star is a tenth of the radius of our Sun
  • Researchers led by University of Warwick could only see...

Im Focus: Quantum simulation more stable than expected

A localization phenomenon boosts the accuracy of solving quantum many-body problems with quantum computers which are otherwise challenging for conventional computers. This brings such digital quantum simulation within reach on quantum devices available today.

Quantum computers promise to solve certain computational problems exponentially faster than any classical machine. “A particularly promising application is the...

Im Focus: Largest, fastest array of microscopic 'traffic cops' for optical communications

The technology could revolutionize how information travels through data centers and artificial intelligence networks

Engineers at the University of California, Berkeley have built a new photonic switch that can control the direction of light passing through optical fibers...

Im Focus: A long-distance relationship in femtoseconds

Physicists observe how electron-hole pairs drift apart at ultrafast speed, but still remain strongly bound.

Modern electronics relies on ultrafast charge motion on ever shorter length scales. Physicists from Regensburg and Gothenburg have now succeeded in resolving a...

Im Focus: Researchers 3D print metamaterials with novel optical properties

Engineers create novel optical devices, including a moth eye-inspired omnidirectional microwave antenna

A team of engineers at Tufts University has developed a series of 3D printed metamaterials with unique microwave or optical properties that go beyond what is...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Revered mathematicians and computer scientists converge with 200 young researchers in Heidelberg!

17.04.2019 | Event News

First dust conference in the Central Asian part of the earth’s dust belt

15.04.2019 | Event News

Fraunhofer FHR at the IEEE Radar Conference 2019 in Boston, USA

09.04.2019 | Event News

 
Latest News

New automated biological-sample analysis systems to accelerate disease detection

18.04.2019 | Life Sciences

Explosion on Jupiter-sized star 10 times more powerful than ever seen on our sun

18.04.2019 | Physics and Astronomy

New eDNA technology used to quickly assess coral reefs

18.04.2019 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>