The largest great ape that ever lived became extinct due to climate change, a study has found

Ancient species of great apes were likely driven to extinction by environmental changes, a study suggests

WASHINGTON — An ancient species of great ape likely became extinct hundreds of thousands of years ago when climate change put its favorite fruits out of reach during dry seasons, scientists reported Wednesday.

But its size may also have been a weakness.

The researchers analyzed pollen and sediment samples preserved in Guangxi caves, as well as fossil teeth, to reveal how forests produced fewer fruits starting around 600,000 years ago, as the region experienced more dry seasons.

The researchers found that giant apes did not disappear quickly, but likely became extinct sometime between 215,000 and 295,000 years ago.

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While small apes may have been able to climb trees to forage for different foods, the researchers' analysis shows that giant apes ate more tree bark, reeds and other non-nutritious foods.

“When the forest changed, there was not enough food for these species to prefer,” said co-author Zhang Yingke of the China Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology.

Most of what scientists know about extinct great apes comes from studying fossil teeth and four large lower jaw bones, all found in southern China. No complete skeletons have been found.

Fossil records show that between about 2 million and 22 million years ago, dozens of species of great apes inhabited Africa, Europe, and Asia. Today, only gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, orangutans and humans remain.

While the first humans appeared in Africa, scientists don't know on which continent the great ape family first appeared, said Rick Potts, who directs the Human Origins Program at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, who was not involved in the study.


The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Science and Education Media Group. AP is solely responsible for all content.

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