Objectives Although a great deal is known about the biology of tooth development and eruption, there remains disagreement about the factors driving the evolution of dental eruption sequence. We assessed postcanine eruption sequence across a large sample of primates to test two hypotheses: (1) Dental eruption sequence is significantly correlated with life history and body size variables that capture postnatal growth and longevity (Schultz's rule), and (2) Dental eruption sequence is conserved phylogenetically.
Materials and methods We assessed postcanine dental eruption sequence for 194 individuals representing 21 primate genera spanning eight families. With the inclusion of an additional 29 primate genera from the literature, this is the most comprehensive report on dental eruption sequence in primates to date. We used a series of phylogenetic analyses to statistically compare dental eruption sequence to life history and body size and test for phylogenetic signal in these traits.
Results Dental eruption sequence is conserved phylogenetically in primates, and body and brain size are both significantly associated with dental eruption sequence. Ancestral state reconstruction supports the hypothesis that the third molar erupted before one or more of the premolars in the ancestor of primates, and derived clades within primates evolved an eruption sequence in which the third molar erupts after the premolars.
Discussion Schultz's rule, as it is currently written and applied, is not supported by this extended data set. Our results demonstrate that dental eruption sequence is a far better predictor of phylogeny and will likely prove useful in phylogenetic hypotheses about relationships between extinct and extant mammalian taxa. The evolution of dental eruption sequence is likely driven by factors that significantly influence body size and mandibular symphyseal fusion.