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Evolution of the Muscles of Facial Expression in a Monogamous Ape: Evaluating the Relative Influences of Ecological and Phylogenetic Factors in Hylobatids

Apr 1, 2011

Facial expression is a communication mode produced by facial (mimetic) musculature. Hylobatids (gibbons and siamangs) have a poorly documented facial display repertoire and little is known about their facial musculature. These lesser apes represent an opportunity to test hypotheses related to the evolution of primate facial musculature as they are the only hominoid with a monogamous social structure, and thus live in very small groups. Primate species living in large groups with numerous social relationships, such as chimpanzees and rhesus macaques, have been shown to have a complex facial display repertoire and a high number of discrete facial muscles. The present study was designed to examine the relative influence of social structure and phylogeny on facial musculature evolution by comparing facial musculature complexity among hylobatids, chimpanzees, and rhesus macaques. Four faces were dissected from four hylobatid species. Morphology, attachments, three-dimensional relationships, and variation among specimens were noted and compared to rhesus macaques and chimpanzees. Microanatomical characteristics of the orbicularis oris muscle were also compared. Facial muscles of hylobatids were generally gracile and less complex than both the rhesus macaque and chimpanzee. Microanatomically, the orbicularis oris muscle of hylobatids was relatively loosely packed with muscle fibers. These results indicate that environmental and social factors may have been important in determining morphology and complexity of facial musculature in the less social hylobatids and that they may not have experienced as strong selection pressure for mimetic muscle complexity as other, more social primates.

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