Feeding behavior, diet, and the functional consequences of jaw form in orangutans, with implications for the evolution of Pongo.

Journal Article (Journal Article)

Orangutans are amongst the most craniometrically variable of the extant great apes, yet there has been no attempt to explicitly link this morphological variation with observed differences in behavioral ecology. This study explores the relationship between feeding behavior, diet, and mandibular morphology in orangutans. All orangutans prefer ripe, pulpy fruit when available. However, some populations of Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus morio and P. p. wurmbii) rely more heavily on bark and relatively tough vegetation during periods of low fruit yield than do Sumatran orangutans (Pongo abelii). I tested the hypothesis that Bornean orangutans exhibit structural features of the mandible that provide greater load resistance abilities to masticatory and incisal forces. Compared to P. abelii, P. p. morio exhibits greater load resistance abilities as reflected in a relatively deeper mandibular corpus, deeper and wider mandibular symphysis, and relatively greater condylar area. P. p. wurmbii exhibits most of these same morphologies, and in all comparisons is either comparable in jaw proportions to P. p. morio, or intermediate between P. p. morio and P. abelii. These data indicate that P. p. morio and P. p. wurmbii are better suited to resisting large and/or frequent jaw loads than P. abelii. Using these results, I evaluated mandibular morphology in P. p. pygmaeus, a Bornean orangutan population whose behavioral ecology is poorly known. Pongo p. pygmaeus generally exhibits relatively greater load resistance capabilities than P. abelii, but less than P. p. morio. These results suggest that P. p. pygmaeus may consume greater amounts of tougher and/or more obdurate foods than P. abelii, and that consumption of such foods may intensify amongst Bornean orangutan populations. Finally, data from this study are used to evaluate variation in craniomandibular morphology in Khoratpithecus piriyai, possibly the earliest relative of Pongo from the late Miocene of Thailand, and the late Pleistocene Hoa Binh subfossil orangutan recovered from Vietnam. With the exception of a relatively thicker M(3) mandibular corpus, K. piriyai has jaw proportions that would be expected for an extant orangutan of comparable jaw size. Likewise, the Hoa Binh subfossil does not differ in skull proportions from extant Pongo, independent of the effects of increase in jaw size. These results indicate that differences in skull and mandibular proportions between these fossil and subfossil orangutans and extant Pongo are allometric. Furthermore, the ability of K. piriyai to resist jaw loads appears to have been comparable to that of extant orangutans. However, the similarity in jaw proportions between P. abelii and K. piriyai suggest the latter may have been dietarily more similar to Sumatran orangutans.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Taylor, AB

Published Date

  • April 2006

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 50 / 4

Start / End Page

  • 377 - 393

PubMed ID

  • 16413045

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0047-2484

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1016/j.jhevol.2005.10.006


  • eng

Conference Location

  • England