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A new theory reveals the cause of the extinction of the largest ape that ever lived on Earth

A new theory reveals the cause of the extinction of the largest ape that ever lived on Earth

Gigantopithecus blacki lived in southern China and is considered the largest primate in Earth's history. According to expectations, the height of these animals may reach three meters, and their weight 300 kilograms, that is, 50% more than the largest gorillas existing today. The orangutan's relatives became extinct about 300,000 years ago, but the reason for their disappearance remains a mystery to science.

A new theory of species extinction

  • This species is still considered mysterious, partly because the fossils found so far only match the anatomy of the ape's mouth: four jaws and about 2,000 isolated teeth.
  • The comparison with today's gorilla also makes sense when you consider that the ancient ape appears to have been entirely herbivorous.
  • The teeth of the Gigantopithecus It has characteristics indicating adaptation to the consumption of fibrous plant materials, abundant fruits and abrasive plants (capable of eroding teeth).
  • But now, a study published in the journal Nature suggests that the primates may have become extinct due to the gradual loss of the forests on which they fed.
  • Information from Folha de São Paulo.

The disappearance of forests and its impact on the ancient ape

During the research, scientists from Chinese, Australian and South African institutions focused their efforts on two fronts. On the one hand, they conducted detailed analyzes of 22 Chinese caves containing and without fossils of this species, to try to accurately date the primate's presence over time, as well as to reconstruct changes in its environment over time.

On the other hand, the chemical composition of animals' teeth was examined to try to understand changes in their diet and lifestyle over time. It was also possible to compare these dental characteristics Gigantopithecus With a much smaller ape than its contemporaries. This is the Bongo Wiedenreischeancient orangutan.

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The study confirmed significant changes in vegetation in southern China over time. While two million years ago the environment was forests, dominated by various species of large trees, the situation changed dramatically between 300,000 and 200,000 years ago, which coincides with the estimated “extinction window” for the ape. Large areas of forest are now interspersed with areas of open vegetation, with plenty of grass.

Furthermore, the teeth of both species show that primates' food and access to water was much better at the beginning of the period than at the time of the extinction. Gigantopithecus. This can be estimated based on the layers of teeth, which have different chemical compositions as animals grow.

These layers become less fine in the later period, indicating a decrease in the diversity of foods accessible to animals. But the signs of this are much more severe in the case of primates, suggesting that it had more difficulty coping with scarcity of resources, especially given its enormous size.

This decrease in dietary diversity would lead to chronic stress, which may end up manifesting itself in changes in offspring care patterns, reduced reproductive rates, malnutrition and difficulty foraging. Keira Westaway, one of the study coordinators

Although there were already ancient humans living in the area at this time, there is no evidence that they hunted Gigantopithecus.

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