Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Oldest evidence of split between Old World monkeys and apes: Primate fossils are 25 million years old

Date:
May 15, 2013
Source:
Ohio University
Summary:
Two fossil discoveries from the East African Rift reveal new information about the evolution of primates, according to a new study.

Artist's reconstruction of Rukwapithecus (front, center) and Nsungwepithecus (right).
Credit: Mauricio Anton

Two fossil discoveries from the East African Rift reveal new information about the evolution of primates, according to a study published online in Nature this week led by Ohio University scientists.

Related Articles


The team's findings document the oldest fossils of two major groups of primates: the group that today includes apes and humans (hominoids), and the group that includes Old World monkeys such as baboons and macaques (cercopithecoids).

Geological analyses of the study site indicate that the finds are 25 million years old, significantly older than fossils previously documented for either of the two groups.

Both primates are new to science, and were collected from a single fossil site in the Rukwa Rift Basin of Tanzania. Rukwapithecus fleaglei is an early hominoid represented by a mandible preserving several teeth. Nsungwepithecus gunnelli is an early cercopithecoid represented by a tooth and jaw fragment.

The primates lived during the Oligocene epoch, which lasted from 34 to 23 million years ago. For the first time, the study documents that the two lineages were already evolving separately during this geological period.

"The late Oligocene is among the least sampled intervals in primate evolutionary history, and the Rukwa field area provides a first glimpse of the animals that were alive at that time from Africa south of the equator," said Nancy Stevens, an associate professor of paleontology in Ohio University's Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine who leads the paleontological team.

Documenting the early evolutionary history of these groups has been elusive, as there are few fossil-bearing deposits of the appropriate age, Stevens explained. Using an approach that dated multiple minerals contained within the rocks, team geologists could determine a precise age for the specimens.

"The rift setting provides an advantage in that it preserves datable materials together with these important primate fossils," said lead geologist Eric Roberts of James Cook University in Australia.

Prior to these finds, the oldest fossil representatives of the hominoid and cercopithecoid lineages were recorded from the early Miocene, at sites dating millions of years younger.

The new discoveries are particularly important for helping to reconcile a long-standing disagreement between divergence time estimates derived from analyses of DNA sequences from living primates and those suggested by the primate fossil record, Stevens said. Studies of clock-like mutations in primate DNA have indicated that the split between apes and Old

World monkeys occurred between 30 million and 25 million years ago.

"Fossils from the Rukwa Rift Basin in southwestern Tanzania provide the first real test of the hypothesis that these groups diverged so early, by revealing a novel glimpse into this late Oligocene terrestrial ecosystem," Stevens said.

The new fossils are the first primate discoveries from this precise location within the Rukwa deposits, and two of only a handful of known primate species from the entire late Oligocene, globally.

The scientists scanned the specimens in the Ohio University's MicroCT scanner, allowing them to create detailed 3-dimensional reconstructions of the ancient specimens that were used for comparisons with other fossils.

"This is another great example that underscores how modern imaging and computational approaches allow us to address more refined questions about vertebrate evolutionary history," said Patrick O'Connor, co-author and professor of anatomy in Ohio University's Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine.

In addition to the new primates, Rukwa field sites have produced several other fossil vertebrate and invertebrate species new to science. The late Oligocene interval is interesting because it provides a final snapshot of the unique species inhabiting Africa prior to large-scale faunal exchange with Eurasia that occurred later in the Cenozoic Era, Stevens said.

A key aspect of the Rukwa Rift Basin project is the interdisciplinary nature of the research team, with paleontologists and geologists working together to reconstruct vertebrate evolutionary history in the context of the developing East African Rift System.

"Since its inception this project has employed a multifaceted approach for addressing a series of large-scale biological and geological questions centered on the East African Rift System in Tanzania," O'Connor said.

The team's research, funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation, the Leakey Foundation and the National Geographic Society, underscores the integration of paleontological and geological approaches that are essential for addressing complex issues in vertebrate evolutionary history, the scientists noted.

Co-authors on the study are Patrick O'Connor, Cornelia Krause and Eric Gorscak of Ohio University, Erik Seiffert of SUNY Stony Brook University, Eric Roberts of James Cook University in Australia, Mark Schmitz of Boise State University, Sifa Ngasala of Michigan State University, Tobin Hieronymus of Northeast Ohio Medical University and Joseph Temu of the Tanzania Antiquities Unit.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Ohio University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Nancy J. Stevens, Erik R. Seiffert, Patrick M. O’Connor, Eric M. Roberts, Mark D. Schmitz, Cornelia Krause, Eric Gorscak, Sifa Ngasala, Tobin L. Hieronymus, Joseph Temu. Palaeontological evidence for an Oligocene divergence between Old World monkeys and apes. Nature, 2013; DOI: 10.1038/nature12161

Cite This Page:

Ohio University. "Oldest evidence of split between Old World monkeys and apes: Primate fossils are 25 million years old." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 May 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130515131556.htm>.
Ohio University. (2013, May 15). Oldest evidence of split between Old World monkeys and apes: Primate fossils are 25 million years old. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130515131556.htm
Ohio University. "Oldest evidence of split between Old World monkeys and apes: Primate fossils are 25 million years old." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130515131556.htm (accessed October 25, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Deep Sea 'mushroom' Could Be Early Branch on Tree of Life

Deep Sea 'mushroom' Could Be Early Branch on Tree of Life

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Oct. 24, 2014) Miniature deep sea animals discovered off the Australian coast almost three decades ago are puzzling scientists, who say the organisms have proved impossible to categorise. Academics at the Natural History of Denmark have appealed to the world scientific community for help, saying that further information on Dendrogramma enigmatica and Dendrogramma discoides could answer key evolutionary questions. Jim Drury has more. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Black Bear Cub Goes Sunday Shopping

Black Bear Cub Goes Sunday Shopping

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Oct. 23, 2014) Price check on honey? Bear cub startles Oregon drugstore shoppers. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Dances With Wolves in China's Wild West

Dances With Wolves in China's Wild West

AFP (Oct. 23, 2014) One man is on a mission to boost the population of wolves in China's violence-wracked far west. The animal - symbol of the Uighur minority there - is under threat with a massive human resettlement program in the region. Duration: 00:41 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Breakfast Debate: To Eat Or Not To Eat?

Breakfast Debate: To Eat Or Not To Eat?

Newsy (Oct. 23, 2014) Conflicting studies published in the same week re-ignited the debate over whether we should be eating breakfast. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins