Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

New fossil may be closest yet to ancestor of all great apes

19.11.2004


A new ape species from Spain called Pierolapithecus catalaunicus, or its close relative, may have been the last common ancestor to all living great apes, including humans, researchers say. The Spanish paleontology team describes its fossil find in the 19 November issue of the journal Science, published by AAAS, the nonprofit science society.



Like other great apes, Pierolapithecus had a stiff lower spine and other special adaptations for climbing. These features, plus the fossil’s age of about 13 million years, suggest that this species was probably close to the last great ape ancestor, according to Salvador Moyà-Solà of the Miguel Crusafont Institute of Paleontology and the Diputación de Barcelona in Barcelona, Spain and his colleagues.

The great apes, which now include orangutans, chimpanzees, gorillas and humans, are thought to have diverged from the lesser apes, a group that contains modern gibbons and siamangs, about 11 to 16 million years ago. Fossil evidence from this time period, the middle Miocene epoch, is sparse, however, and researchers have long been searching for the great ape ancestors that emerged after this split.


The scanty fossil record has revealed several contenders, including Kenyapithecus, and Equatorius or the older Morotopithecus and Afropithecus, but the fossils that do exist indicate that these ancient "hominoids" were more primitive than Pierolapithecus, Moyà-Solà said. The relatively complete Pierolapithecus skeleton shows a variety of important features shared by modern great apes, according to the researchers. "The importance of this new fossil is that for the first time all the key areas that define modern great apes are well-preserved," Moyà-Solà said.

Although Pierolapithecus was discovered in Spain, Moyà-Solà believes that this species probably also lived in Africa. "Africa is the factory of primates. In the fossil record of the lower and middle Miocene in Africa, we have found a fantastic diversity of primitive hominoids with monkey-like body structures. In Eurasia, apes appeared suddenly in middle Miocene -- before then primates there were nearly unknown. For that reason, the source area in my opinion is Africa," he said.

The individual that the researchers discovered was probably male, weighed approximately 35 kilograms and from its tooth shape appears to have been a fruit eater. The skeleton was discovered at a new paleontological site, Barranc de Can Vila 1, near Barcelona. Pierolapithecus’ ribcage, lower spine and wrist show key signs of specialized climbing abilities that link this specimen with modern great apes. In contrast, monkeys, which belong to a more primitive group, have more generalized, versatile movement abilities and lack these particular traits.

For example, Pierolapithecus’ ribcage, or thorax, is similar to that of modern great apes because it is wider and flatter than a monkey ribcage, the researchers report. "The thorax is the most important anatomical part of this fossil, because it’s the first time that the modern ape-like thorax has been found in the fossil record," Moyà-Solà said. Specimens of other apes, such as Proconsul or Equatorius, have included some rib fragments, "but the morphology is primitive, completely like monkeys," he added. In addition, Pierolapithecus’ shoulder blades lie along its back, as do those of modern great apes and humans. In monkeys, the shoulder blades are on the sides of the ribcage, the way they are in dogs.

In both Pierolapithecus and modern great apes, the lumbar section of the lower spine is relatively short and stiff. The vertebrae in this part of the spine therefore differ from monkey vertebrae, which allow more flexion and extension. These adaptations would have affected Pierolapithecus’ center of gravity, making it easier to assume an upright posture and to climb trees, the researchers say. Also, in Pierolapithecus and modern great apes, only one of the two forearm bones "articulates," or attaches flexibly, to the wrist. This trait allows a relatively large degree of hand rotation and probably helped with climbing, according to Moyà-Solà. Pierolapithecus’ skull was also distinctly great ape-like, the authors say. The face is relatively short, and the structure of the upper nose lies in the same plane as the eyes. In monkeys, a ridge between the eyes interferes with the plane of vision.

Pierolapithecus also had some more primitive, monkey-like features, such as a sloped face and short fingers and toes. Moyà-Solà and his colleagues think this is a sign that various traits emerged separately and perhaps more than once in ape evolution. For example, climbing and hanging abilities are often thought to have evolved together, but Pierolapithecus’ short fingers indicate that it didn’t do a lot of hanging. Hanging-related traits may have evolved several times, showing up later in great apes, the researchers propose.

The first sign of Pierolapithecus’ existence was a canine tooth turned up by a bulldozer that was clearing the land for digging. "Paleontologists in Spain say ’you don’t find a good fossil, the good fossil finds you,’" Moyà-Solà said.

Ginger Pinholster | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.aaas.org

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Mass spectrometry sheds new light on thallium poisoning cold case
14.12.2018 | University of Maryland

nachricht Protein involved in nematode stress response identified
14.12.2018 | University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Data use draining your battery? Tiny device to speed up memory while also saving power

The more objects we make "smart," from watches to entire buildings, the greater the need for these devices to store and retrieve massive amounts of data quickly without consuming too much power.

Millions of new memory cells could be part of a computer chip and provide that speed and energy savings, thanks to the discovery of a previously unobserved...

Im Focus: An energy-efficient way to stay warm: Sew high-tech heating patches to your clothes

Personal patches could reduce energy waste in buildings, Rutgers-led study says

What if, instead of turning up the thermostat, you could warm up with high-tech, flexible patches sewn into your clothes - while significantly reducing your...

Im Focus: Lethal combination: Drug cocktail turns off the juice to cancer cells

A widely used diabetes medication combined with an antihypertensive drug specifically inhibits tumor growth – this was discovered by researchers from the University of Basel’s Biozentrum two years ago. In a follow-up study, recently published in “Cell Reports”, the scientists report that this drug cocktail induces cancer cell death by switching off their energy supply.

The widely used anti-diabetes drug metformin not only reduces blood sugar but also has an anti-cancer effect. However, the metformin dose commonly used in the...

Im Focus: New Foldable Drone Flies through Narrow Holes in Rescue Missions

A research team from the University of Zurich has developed a new drone that can retract its propeller arms in flight and make itself small to fit through narrow gaps and holes. This is particularly useful when searching for victims of natural disasters.

Inspecting a damaged building after an earthquake or during a fire is exactly the kind of job that human rescuers would like drones to do for them. A flying...

Im Focus: Topological material switched off and on for the first time

Key advance for future topological transistors

Over the last decade, there has been much excitement about the discovery, recognised by the Nobel Prize in Physics only two years ago, that there are two types...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

ICTM Conference 2019: Digitization emerges as an engineering trend for turbomachinery construction

12.12.2018 | Event News

New Plastics Economy Investor Forum - Meeting Point for Innovations

10.12.2018 | Event News

EGU 2019 meeting: Media registration now open

06.12.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Data use draining your battery? Tiny device to speed up memory while also saving power

14.12.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Tangled magnetic fields power cosmic particle accelerators

14.12.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

In search of missing worlds, Hubble finds a fast evaporating exoplanet

14.12.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>