Internal carotid arterial canal size and scaling in Euarchonta: Re-assessing implications for arterial patency and phylogenetic relationships in early fossil primates.


Primate species typically differ from other mammals in having bony canals that enclose the branches of the internal carotid artery (ICA) as they pass through the middle ear. The presence and relative size of these canals varies among major primate clades. As a result, differences in the anatomy of the canals for the promontorial and stapedial branches of the ICA have been cited as evidence of either haplorhine or strepsirrhine affinities among otherwise enigmatic early fossil euprimates. Here we use micro X-ray computed tomography to compile the largest quantitative dataset on ICA canal sizes. The data suggest greater variation of the ICA canals within some groups than has been previously appreciated. For example, Lepilemur and Avahi differ from most other lemuriforms in having a larger promontorial canal than stapedial canal. Furthermore, various lemurids are intraspecifically variable in relative canal size, with the promontorial canal being larger than the stapedial canal in some individuals but not others. In species where the promontorial artery supplies the brain with blood, the size of the promontorial canal is significantly correlated with endocranial volume (ECV). Among species with alternate routes of encephalic blood supply, the promontorial canal is highly reduced relative to ECV, and correlated with both ECV and cranium size. Ancestral state reconstructions incorporating data from fossils suggest that the last common ancestor of living primates had promontorial and stapedial canals that were similar to each other in size and large relative to ECV. We conclude that the plesiomorphic condition for crown primates is to have a patent promontorial artery supplying the brain and a patent stapedial artery for various non-encephalic structures. This inferred ancestral condition is exhibited by treeshrews and most early fossil euprimates, while extant primates exhibit reduction in one canal or another. The only early fossils deviating from this plesiomorphic condition are Adapis parisiensis with a reduced promontorial canal, and Rooneyia and Mahgarita with reduced stapedial canals.





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Publication Info

Boyer, Doug M, E Christopher Kirk, Mary T Silcox, Gregg F Gunnell, Christopher C Gilbert, Gabriel S Yapuncich, Kari L Allen, Emma Welch, et al. (2016). Internal carotid arterial canal size and scaling in Euarchonta: Re-assessing implications for arterial patency and phylogenetic relationships in early fossil primates. J Hum Evol, 97. pp. 123–144. 10.1016/j.jhevol.2016.06.002 Retrieved from

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Douglas Martin Boyer

Associate Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology

Gabriel Yapuncich

Assistant Professor of the Practice of Medical Education

I hail from the great mountain states of Montana (the state of my birth) and Wyoming (the state of my childhood). I have a bachelor's degree in English literature from the University of Wisconsin and a bachelor's degree in the evolutionary biology from Columbia University. I completed my PhD in evolutionary anthropology at Duke University in March 2017, working with Dr. Doug M. Boyer. I have taught gross and microanatomy to Duke University School of Medicine students since 2018. In 2021, I joined the DUSOM MD program as an Assistant Professor of the Practice of Medical Education and Director of Accreditation and Continuous Quality Improvement.


Richard Frederick Kay

Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology

I have two areas of research:1) the evolution of primates in South America; and 2) the use of primate anatomy to reconstruct the phylogenetic history and adapations of living and extinct primates, especially Anthropoidea.

1) Evolution of primates and mammalian faunal evolution, especially in South America. For the past 30 years, I have been engaged in research in Argentina, Bolivia The Dominican Republic, Peru, and Colombia with three objectives:a) to reconstruct the evolutionary history and adaptive patterns of South America primates and other mammals; b) to establish a more precise geologic chronology for the mammalian faunas between the late Eocene and middle Miocene (between about 36 and about 15 million years ago); and c) to use anatomy and niche structure of modern mammals as a means to reconstruct the evolution of mammalian niche structure in the Neotropics.

2) Primate Anatomy. I am working to reconstruct the phylogeny of primates based (principally) on anatomical evidence; and to infer the adaptations of extinct primates based mainly on cranial and dental evidence.

Field activities
Current fieldwork is focused on the study of terrestrial biotic change in Patagonia through the 'mid-Miocene Climate Optimum' when global climate was moderate and the subtropical zone, with primates and other typically tropical vertebrates, extended their ranges up to 55 degrees of South latitude.

In this collaborative research undertaking with colleagues at University of Washington and Boise State University, the geochronology of the Santa Cruz Formation at in extreme southern Argentina is being refined using radiometric dating. Stratigraphically-controlled collections have been made of vertebrates and plant macro- and microfossils. Climate change and its impact on the biota is assessed 1) using biogeochemical analysis of stable isotopes in fossil mammalian tooth enamel; 2) by documenting changes in mammalian community structure (richness, origination and extinction rates, and ecological morphology); and 3) by documenting changes in vegetation and floral composition through the study of phytoliths. These three independent lines of evidence in a refined geochronologic framework will then be compared with similar evidence from continental sequences in the Northern Hemisphere and oceanic climatic records to improve our understanding of the timing and character of climatic change in continental high latitudes during this temporal interval.

A second field project project in its early stages is the study of the fossil vertebrates of the Amazon Basin. The latter is a collaborative effort of biologists and geologists across schools at Duke (Nicholas School) and among six North American universities. My role is to direct the vertebrate paleontology component of this project in Brazil and Amazonian Peru. The hope is to recover primates from the Oligocene through Early Miocene. New material will shed light on the phylogenetic status of African Paleogene anthropoids, one of which may be the platyrrhine sister-taxon. Also, new remains of fossil primates will help to refine hypotheses about the origins of the modern families and subfamilies of platyrrhines, all of which trace back to an Early Miocene (17-21 Ma) common ancestor. Finally, new fossil primates may further constrain the time of entry of platyrrhines into South America.

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