Remnants of an ancient forest provide ecological context for Early Miocene fossil apes

Lauren A. Michel, Daniel J. Peppe, James A. Lutz, Steven G. Driese, Holly M. Dunsworth, William E.H. Harcourt-Smith, William H. Horner, Thomas Lehmann, Sheila Nightingale, Kieran P. McNulty

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31 Scopus citations

Abstract

The lineage of apes and humans (Hominoidea) evolved and radiated across Afro-Arabia in the early Neogene during a time of global climatic changes and ongoing tectonic processes that formed the East African Rift. These changes probably created highly variable environments and introduced selective pressures influencing the diversification of early apes. However, interpreting the connection between environmental dynamics and adaptive evolution is hampered by difficulties in locating taxa within specific ecological contexts: time-averaged or reworked deposits may not faithfully represent individual palaeohabitats. Here we present multiproxy evidence from Early Miocene deposits on Rusinga Island, Kenya, which directly ties the early ape Proconsul to a widespread, dense, multistoried, closed-canopy tropical seasonal forest set in a warm and relatively wet, local climate. These results underscore the importance of forested environments in the evolution of early apes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number3236
JournalNature communications
Volume5
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 18 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This project work was supported by the National Science Foundation (BCS-0852609 and BCS-852515), the Leakey Foundation, the Evolving Earth Foundation, SEPM, The Explorers Club, the Geological Society of America, University of Minnesota, NYCEP and Baylor University. We gratefully acknowledge the Kenyan government and National Museums of Kenya for facilitating our research, and thank especially Drs E. Mbua and F. Manthi for project support. Thanks to B. Onyango, J. Ouma, J. Siembo, J. Ogondo, L.M. DiPietro, K. Jenkins, S. Odhiambo, S. Okeyo, V. Okumu, J. Olelo, W.G.Fletcher and the Rusinga Island Lodge for assistance in the field, and Northeastern Illinois University and NYCEP for logistical support.

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