Craniofacial morphology in primates can vary on the basis of their diet because foods are often disparate in the amount and duration of force required to break them down. Therefore diet has the potential to exercise considerable selective pressure on the morphology of the masticatory system. The zygomatic arch is a known site of relatively high masticatory strain and yet the relationship between arch form and load type is relatively unknown in primates. While the relative position and robusticity of the arch is considered a key indicator of craniofacial adaptations to a mechanically challenging diet, and central to efforts to infer diet in past species, the relationships between morphology and diet type in this feature are not well established.
This study tested hypotheses using two diet categorizations: total consumption percent and food material properties (FMPs). The first hypothesis that cortical bone area (CA) and section moduli (bone strength) are positively correlated with masticatory loading tests whether CA and moduli measures were greatest anteriorly and decreased posteriorly along the arch. The results found these measures adhered to this predicted pattern in the majority of taxa. The second hypothesis examines sutural complexity in the zygomaticotemporal suture as a function of dietary loading differences by calculating fractal dimensions as indices of complexity. No predictable pattern was found linking sutural complexity and diet in this primate sample, though hard object consumers possessed the most complex sutures. Lastly, cross-sectional geometric properties were measured to investigate whether bending and torsional resistance and cross-sectional shape are related to differences in masticatory loading. The highest measures of mechanical resistance tracked with areas of greatest strain in the majority of taxa. Cross-sectional shape differences do appear to reflect dietary differences. FMPs were not correlated with cross-sectional variables, however pairwise comparisons suggest taxa that ingest foods of greater stiffness experience relatively larger measures of bending and torsional resistance. The current study reveals that internal and external morphological factors vary across the arch and in conjunction with diet in primates. These findings underscore the importance of incorporating these mechanical differences in models of zygomatic arch mechanical behavior and primate craniofacial biomechanics.