Many behavioral and ecological factors influence the degree of expression of canine dimorphism for different reasons. Regardless of its socioecological importance, we know virtually nothing about the processes responsible for the development of canine dimorphism. Our aim here is to describe the developmental process(es) regulating canine dimorphism in extant hominoids, using histological markers of tooth growth. Teeth preserve a permanent record of their ontogeny in the form of short- and long-period incremental markings in both enamel and dentine. We selected 52 histological sections of sexed hominoid canine teeth from a total sample of 115, from which we calculated the time and rate of cuspal enamel formation and the rate at which ameloblasts differentiate along the future enamel-dentine junction (EDJ) to the end of crown formation. Thus, we were able to reconstruct longitudinal growth curves for height attainment in male and female hominoid canines. Male hominoids consistently take longer to form canine crowns than do females (although not significantly so for our sample of Homo). Male orangutans and gorillas occasionally take up to twice as long as females to complete enamel formation. The mean ranges of female canine crown formation times are similar in Pan, Gorilla, and Pongo. Interspecific differences between female Pan canine crown heights and those of Gorilla and Pongo, which are taller, result from differences in rates of growth. Differences in canine crown heights between male Pan and the taller, more dimorphic male Gorilla and Pongo canines result both from differences in total time taken to form enamel and from faster rates of growth in Gorilla and Pongo. Although modern human canines do not emerge as significantly dimorphic in this study, it is well-known that sexual dimorphism in canine crown height exists. Larger samples of sexed modern human canines are therefore needed to identify clearly what underlies this.
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