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Added: Wed, 21 Mar 2012 13:25:18 UTC
A chimpanzee moving bipedally during the study. Credit: Prof. W C M McGrew.
Our earliest ancestors may have started walking on two limbs instead of four in a bid to monopolise resources and to carry as much food as possible in one go, researchers have found.
A study published in the journal Current Biology this week, investigated the behaviour of modern-day chimpanzees as they competed for food resources, in an effort to understand why our “hominin”, or “human-like” ancestors became bipedal.
Its findings suggest that chimpanzees switch to moving on two limbs instead of four in situations where they need to monopolize a resource, usually because it may not occur in plentiful supply in their habitat, making it hard for them to predict when they will see it again. Standing on two legs allows them to carry much more in one go because it frees up their hands.
The joint University of Cambridge and Kyoto University team of biological anthropologists, led by PhD student Susana Carvalho and Professor Tetsuro Matsuzawa, conclude that our earliest hominin ancestors may have lived in shifting environmental conditions in which certain resources were not always easy to come by. Over time, intense bursts of bipedal activity may have led to anatomical changes that in turn became the subject of natural selection where competition for food or other resources was strong.
Professor William McGrew, from the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge, said: “Bipedality as the key human adaptation may be an evolutionary product of this strategy persisting over time. Ultimately, it set our ancestors on a separate evolutionary path.”
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