Ontogenetic changes in jaw leverage and skull shape in tufted and untufted capuchins

J Morphol. 2024 May;285(5):e21705. doi: 10.1002/jmor.21705.


The ontogeny of feeding is characterized by shifting functional demands concurrent with changes in craniofacial anatomy; relationships between these factors will look different in primates with disparate feeding behaviors during development. This study examines the ontogeny of skull morphology and jaw leverage in tufted (Sapajus) and untufted (Cebus) capuchin monkeys. Unlike Cebus, Sapajus have a mechanically challenging diet and behavioral observations of juvenile Sapajus suggest these foods are exploited early in development. Landmarks were placed on three-dimensional surface models of an ontogenetic series of Sapajus and Cebus skulls (n = 53) and used to generate shape data and jaw-leverage estimates across the tooth row for three jaw-closing muscles (temporalis, masseter, medial pterygoid) as well as a weighted combined estimate. Using geometric morphometric methods, we found that skull shape diverges early and shape is significantly different between Sapajus and Cebus throughout ontogeny. Additionally, jaw leverage varies with age and position on the tooth row and is greater in Sapajus compared to Cebus when calculated at the permanent dentition. We used two-block partial least squares analyses to identify covariance between skull shape and each of our jaw muscle leverage estimates. Sapajus, but not Cebus, has significant covariance between all leverage estimates at the anterior dentition. Our findings show that Sapajus and Cebus exhibit distinct craniofacial morphologies early in ontogeny and strong covariance between leverage estimates and craniofacial shape in Sapajus. These results are consistent with prior behavioral and comparative work suggesting these differences are a function of selection for exploiting mechanically challenging foods in Sapajus, and further emphasize that these differences appear quite early in ontogeny. This research builds on prior work that has highlighted the importance of understanding ontogeny for interpreting adult morphology.

Keywords: biomechanics; feeding system; ontogeny; skull morphology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cebus* / anatomy & histology
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology
  • Female
  • Jaw* / anatomy & histology
  • Male
  • Sapajus / anatomy & histology
  • Sapajus / growth & development
  • Skull* / anatomy & histology
  • Skull* / growth & development