Patterns of mandibular variation in Pan and Gorilla and implications for African ape taxonomy

Andrea B Taylor, Colin P Groves
Journal of Human Evolution 2003, 44 (5): 529-61
Pan and Gorilla taxonomy is currently in a state of flux, with the number of existing species and subspecies of common chimpanzee and gorilla having been recently challenged. While Pan and Gorilla systematics have been evaluated on the basis of craniometric and odontometric data, only a handful of studies have evaluated multivariate craniometric variation within P. troglodytes, and none have evaluated in detail mandibular variation in either P. troglodytes or Gorilla gorilla. In this paper, we examine ontogenetic and adult mandibular variation in Pan and Gorilla. We test the hypothesis that patterns and degrees of mandibular variation in Pan and Gorilla closely correspond to those derived from previous analyses of craniometric variation. We then use these data to address some current issues surrounding Pan and Gorilla taxonomy. Specifically, we evaluate the purported distinctiveness of P.t. verus from the other two subspecies of Pan troglodytes, and the recent proposals to recognize Nigerian gorillas as a distinct subspecies, Gorilla gorilla diehli, and to acknowledge mountain and lowland gorillas as two separate species. Overall, patterns and degrees of multivariate mandibular differentiation parallel those obtained previously for the cranium and dentition. Thus, differences among the three conventionally recognized gorilla subspecies are somewhat greater than among subspecies of common chimpanzees, but differences between P. paniscus and P. troglodytes are greater than those observed between any gorilla subspecies. In this regard, the mandible does not appear to be more variable, or of less taxonomic value, than the face and other parts of the cranium. There are, however, some finer differences in the pattern and degree of morphological differentiation in Pan and Gorilla, both with respect to cranial and dental morphology, and in terms of the application and manner of size adjustment. Mandibular differentiation supports the conventional separation of bonobos from chimpanzees regardless of size adjustment, but size correction alters the relative alignment of taxa. Following size correction, intergroup distances are greatest between P.t. verus and all other groups, but there is considerable overlap amongst chimpanzee subspecies. Amongst gorillas, the greatest separation is between eastern and western gorillas, but adjustment relative to palatal vs. basicranial length results in a greater accuracy of group classification for G.g. gorilla and G.g. graueri, and more equivalent intergroup distances amongst all gorilla groups. We find no multivariate differentiation of the Nigerian gorillas based on mandibular morphology, suggesting that the primary difference between Nigerian and other western lowland gorillas lies in the nuchal region. Though intergroup distances are greatest between P.t. verus and other chimpanzee subspecies, the degree of overlap amongst all three groups does not indicate a markedly greater degree of distinction in mandibular, as opposed to other morphologies. Finally, mandibular differentiation corroborates previous craniodental studies indicating the greatest distinction amongst gorillas is between eastern and western groups. Thus, patterns and degrees of mandibular variation are in agreement with other kinds of data that have been used to diagnose eastern and western gorillas as separate species.

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