Modeling the biomechanics of articular eminence function in anthropoid primates.
One of the most prominent features of the cranial component of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the articular eminence (AE). This bar of bone is the primary surface upon which the condyle translates and rotates during movements of the mandible, and is therefore the primary point at which forces are transmitted from the mandible to the cranium during loading of the masticatory apparatus. The shape of the AE is highly variable across primates, and the raised eminence of humans has often been considered a defining feature of the human TMJ, yet few data exist to address whether this variation is functionally significant. This study used a broad interspecific sample of anthropoid primates to elaborate upon and test the predictions of a previously proposed model of AE function. This model suggests that AE inclination acts to resist non-normal forces at the TMJ, thereby maximizing bite forces (BFs). AE inclination was predicted to covary with two specific features of the masticatory apparatus: height of the TMJ above the occlusal plane; and inclination of the masticatory muscles. A correlate of this model is that taxa utilizing more resistant food objects should also exhibit relatively more inclined AEs. Results of the correlation analyses found that AE inclination is strongly correlated with height of the TMJ above the occlusal plane, but less so with inclination of the masticatory muscles. Furthermore, pairwise comparisons of closely related taxa with documented dietary differences found that the AE is consistently more inclined in taxa that utilize more resistant food items. These data preliminarily suggest that variation in AE morphology across anthropoid primates is functionally related to maximizing BFs, and add to the growing dataset of masticatory morphologies linked to feeding behavior.
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