Objectives: In humans it has been shown that abrasive particles in the diet result in increased tooth wear and less intense chewing behavior, both of which decrease chewing efficiency. This behavioral response may also exist in non-human primates as a means to reduce the wear effect of dust-laden food. Here we tested whether the periodical occurrence of abrasive dust particles in the diet of Western chimpanzees affects tooth wear and reduces chewing efficiency.
Materials and methods: We measured fecal particle size of undigested food matter as an indicator of chewing efficiency in 13 Western chimpanzees of the Taï National Park (Ivory Coast) before (wet), after (wet) and during a dust-rich (dry) period. Moreover, feeding data were compiled for a further 12 chimpanzees and matched to three-dimensional surface texture data measured on two molar facets of 26 skulls of the same population.
Results: Fecal particles were larger during the dry period, indicating a reduced chewing efficiency compared to wet periods; age and sex did not have an effect. Concomitantly, dust led to an increase of abrasive wear evidenced by smaller texture features and higher density of fine furrows on wear facets.
Discussion: Our findings show that a periodical increase in dust loads on foods places a dietaryphysiological stress on the digestive system in chimpanzees. We suggest that the impact of extrinsic abrasive particles from globally acting periodical dust-laden winds may affect evolutionary fitness. Further studies are required to elucidate this relationship in other non-human primates and fossil hominins.