The relationship between the structure and function of the primate apical tuft is poorly understood. This study addresses several hypotheses about apical tuft morphology using a large modern primate comparative sample. Two indices of tuft size are employed: expansion and robusticity. First, comparisons of relative apical tuft size were drawn among extant nonhuman primate groups in terms of locomotion and phylogenetic category. Both of these factors appear to play a role in apical tuft size among nonhuman primates. Suspensory primates and all platyrrhines had the smallest apical tufts, while terrestrial quadrupeds and all strepsirrhines (regardless of locomotor category) had the largest tufts. Similarly, hypotheses regarding the apical tufts of hominins, especially the large tufts of Neandertals were addressed using a comparison of modern warm- and cold-adapted humans. The results showed that cold-adapted populations possessed smaller apical tufts than did warm-adapted groups. Therefore, the cold-adaptation hypothesis for Neandertal distal phalangeal morphology is not supported. Also, early modern and Early Upper Paleolithic humans had apical tufts that were significantly less expanded and less robust than those of Neandertals. The hypothesis that a large apical tuft serves as support for an expanded digital pulp is supported by radiographic analysis of modern humans in that a significant correlation was discovered between the width of the apical tuft and the width of the pulp. The implications of these findings for hypotheses about the association of apical tuft size and tool making in the hominin fossil record are discussed.
(c) 2007 Wiley-Liss