Functional morphology of the hallucal metatarsal with implications for inferring grasping ability in extinct primates

Katherine E. Goodenberger, Doug M. Boyer, Caley M. Orr, Rachel L. Jacobs, John C. Femiani, Biren A. Patel

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    15 Scopus citations


    Primate evolutionary morphologists have argued that selection for life in a fine branch niche resulted in grasping specializations that are reflected in the hallucal metatarsal (Mt1) morphology of extant "prosimians", while a transition to use of relatively larger, horizontal substrates explains the apparent loss of such characters in anthropoids. Accordingly, these morphological characters-Mt1 torsion, peroneal process length and thickness, and physiological abduction angle-have been used to reconstruct grasping ability and locomotor mode in the earliest fossil primates. Although these characters are prominently featured in debates on the origin and subsequent radiation of Primates, questions remain about their functional significance. This study examines the relationship between these morphological characters of the Mtl and a novel metric of pedal grasping ability for a large number of extant taxa in a phylogenetic framework. Results indicate greater Mtl torsion in taxa that engage in hallucal grasping and in those that utilize relatively small substrates more frequently. This study provides evidence that Carpolestes simpsoni has a torsion value more similar to grasping primates than to any scandentian. The results also show that taxa that habitually grasp vertical substrates are distinguished from other taxa in having relatively longer peroneal processes. Furthermore, a longer peroneal process is also correlated with calcaneal elongation, a metric previously found to reflect leaping proclivity. A more refined understanding of the functional associations between Mtl morphology and behavior in extant primates enhances the potential for using these morphological characters to comprehend primate (locomotor) evolution.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)327-348
    Number of pages22
    JournalAmerican journal of physical anthropology
    Issue number3
    StatePublished - Mar 1 2015


    • Arboreal locomotion
    • Early primates
    • Grasping foot
    • Hallux
    • Leaping
    • Peroneal process
    • Torsion

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Anatomy
    • Anthropology


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