Relationships between the diet and dentition of Asian leaf monkeys

Barth W. Wright, Mary S. Willis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Colobines have been generally described as primates that use the anterior teeth minimally, but the posterior teeth extensively, to process leaves and related food items. However, variation among leaf monkeys in both anterior and posterior dental morphology has been recognized for decades. In this study, we turn to Hylander's (Science 189 (1975) 1095-1098) analysis of anterior incisor row length and Kay's (Adaptations for foraging in nonhuman primates, 1984) examination of relative molar crest length to test hypotheses proposed by them for Asian colobines. We present findings based on data from the largest Asian colobine sample measured to date. Our findings for incisor row length and molar cresting are not amenable to broad generalizations. In those instances when our morphological findings concur with those of Hylander (Science 189 (1975) 1095-1098) and Kay and Hylander (The ecology of arboreal folivores, 1978), the ecological evidence seldom supports the morphological predictions. The disassociation between diet and dental patterns may be a consequence of differential selection by fallback foods, anthropogenic disturbance or climatic shifts limiting preferred diets, or the use of food types as opposed to food mechanical properties for dietary categorization. We also found that in the case of both incisor row length and molar crest length, the patterns for males and females differed markedly. The reasons for these differences may in part be ascribed to the metabolic challenges faced by females and subsequent niche partitioning. We propose integrated analyses of the ingestive and digestive systems of our study taxa to clarify relationships among behavior, dental morphology, and diet in extant and extinct colobines. Am J Phys Anthropol 148:262-275, 2012. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)262-275
Number of pages14
JournalAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2012


  • Asian colobines
  • dental ecology
  • folivores
  • incisors
  • molars

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Anthropology


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