Ontogenetic changes to metacarpal trabecular bone structure in mountain and western lowland gorillas.
The trabecular bone morphology of adult extant primates has been shown to reflect mechanical loading related to locomotion. However, ontogenetic studies of humans and other mammals suggest an adaptive lag between trabecular bone response and current mechanical loading patterns that could result in adult trabecular bone morphology reflecting juvenile behaviours. This study investigates ontogenetic changes in the trabecular bone structure of the third metacarpal of mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei; n = 26) and western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla; n = 26) and its relationship to expected changes in locomotor loading patterns. Results show that trabecular bone reflects predicted mechanical loading throughout ontogeny. Bone volume fraction, trabecular thickness and trabecular number are low at birth and increase with age, although degree of anisotropy remains relatively stable throughout ontogeny. A high concentration of bone volume fraction can be observed in the distopalmar region of the third metacarpal epiphysis in early ontogeny, consistent with the high frequency of climbing, suspensory and other grasping behaviours in young gorillas. High trabecular bone concentration increases dorsally in the epiphysis during the juvenile period as terrestrial knuckle-walking becomes the primary form of locomotion. However, fusion of the epiphysis does not take place until 10-11 years of age, and overall trabecular structure does not fully reflect the adult pattern until 12 years of age, indicating a lag between adult-like behaviours and adult-like trabecular morphology. We found minimal differences in trabecular ontogeny between mountain and western lowland gorillas, despite presumed variation in the frequencies of arboreal locomotor behaviours. Altogether, ontogenetic changes in Gorilla metacarpal trabecular structure reflect overall genus-level changes in locomotor behaviours throughout development, but with some ontogenetic lag that should be considered when drawing functional conclusions from bone structure in extant or fossil adolescent specimens.
Deckers, K; Tsegai, ZJ; Skinner, MM; Zeininger, A; Kivell, TL
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