JOURNAL ARTICLE
REVIEW

Hands of early primates

Doug M Boyer, Gabriel S Yapuncich, Stephen G B Chester, Jonathan I Bloch, Marc Godinot
American Journal of Physical Anthropology 2013, 152: 33-78
24249591
Questions surrounding the origin and early evolution of primates continue to be the subject of debate. Though anatomy of the skull and inferred dietary shifts are often the focus, detailed studies of postcrania and inferred locomotor capabilities can also provide crucial data that advance understanding of transitions in early primate evolution. In particular, the hand skeleton includes characteristics thought to reflect foraging, locomotion, and posture. Here we review what is known about the early evolution of primate hands from a comparative perspective that incorporates data from the fossil record. Additionally, we provide new comparative data and documentation of skeletal morphology for Paleogene plesiadapiforms, notharctines, cercamoniines, adapines, and omomyiforms. Finally, we discuss implications of these data for understanding locomotor transitions during the origin and early evolutionary history of primates. Known plesiadapiform species cannot be differentiated from extant primates based on either intrinsic hand proportions or hand-to-body size proportions. Nonetheless, the presence of claws and a different metacarpophalangeal [corrected] joint form in plesiadapiforms indicate different grasping mechanics. Notharctines and cercamoniines have intrinsic hand proportions with extremely elongated proximal phalanges and digit rays relative to metacarpals, resembling tarsiers and galagos. But their hand-to-body size proportions are typical of many extant primates (unlike those of tarsiers, and possibly Teilhardina, which have extremely large hands). Non-adapine adapiforms and omomyids exhibit additional carpal features suggesting more limited dorsiflexion, greater ulnar deviation, and a more habitually divergent pollex than observed plesiadapiforms. Together, features differentiating adapiforms and omomyiforms from plesiadapiforms indicate increased reliance on vertical prehensile-clinging and grasp-leaping, possibly in combination with predatory behaviors in ancestral euprimates.

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