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Vol. 78, No. 5-6, 2007
Issue release date: September 2007

Middle Miocene Dispersals of Apes

Andrews P. · Kelley J.
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Abstract

The earliest record of fossil apes outside Africa is in the latest early Miocene of Turkey and eastern Europe. There were at least 2, and perhaps 4, species of ape, which were found associated with subtropical mixed environments of forest and more open woodland. Postcranial morphology is similar to that of early Miocene primates and indicates mainly generalized arboreal quadrupedal behaviours similar to those of less specialized New World monkeys such as Cebus. Robust jaws and thick enamelled teeth indicate a hard fruit diet. The 2 best known species of fossil ape are known from the site of Paşalar in Turkey. They have almost identical molar and jaw morphology. Molar morphology is also similar to that of specimens from Germany and Slovakia, but there are significant differences in the anterior teeth of the 2 Paşalar species. The more common species, Griphopithecus alpani, shares mainly primitive characters with early and middle Miocene apes in Africa, and it is most similar phenetically to Equatorius africanus from Maboko Island and Kipsaramon. The second species is assigned to a new species of Kenyapithecus, an African genus from Fort Ternan in Kenya, on the basis of a number of shared derived characters of the anterior dentition, and it is considered likely that there is a phylogenetic link between them. The African sites all date from the middle Miocene, similar in age to the Turkish and European ones, and the earliest emigration of apes from Africa coincides with the closure of the Tethys Sea preceding the Langhian transgression. Environments indicated for the African sites are mixtures of seasonal woodlands with some forest vegetation. The postcrania of both African taxa again indicate generalized arboreal adaptation but lacking specialized arboreal function. This middle Miocene radiation of both African and non-African apes was preceded by a radiation of arboreal catarrhine primates in the early Miocene, among which were the earliest apes. The earliest Miocene apes in the genus Proconsul and Rangwapithecus were arboreal, and because of their association with the fruits of evergreen rain forest plants at Mfwangano Island, it would appear that they were forest adapted, i.e. were living in multi-storied evergreen forest. The same or similar species of the same genera from Rusinga Island, together with other genera such as Nyanzapithecus and the small ape Limnopithecus, were associated with plants and animals indicating seasonal woodland environments, probably with gallery forest forming corridors alongside rivers. While the stem ancestors of the Hominoidea were almost certainly forest adapted, the evidence of environments associated with apes in the later part of the early Miocene and the middle Miocene of East Africa indicates more seasonal woodlands, similar to those reconstructed for the middle Miocene of Paşalar in Turkey. This environmental shift was probably a requisite for the successful emigration of apes out of Africa and made possible later movement between the continents for much of the middle Miocene, including possible re-entry of at least one ape lineage back into Africa.



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