According to scientists, the Giganto, the largest primate ever, became extinct as a result of a shift in its diet.
The biggest primate to ever inhabit the Earth has remained a mystery as to when and why our distant relative, known as “giganto,” became extinct.
According to researchers, the large primate fell victim to a regrettable decision in its food selection due to a shortage of its preferred snacks.
Two million years ago, Gigantopithecus blacki lived in mainland southeast Asia. It is believed to have been three meters tall and weighed between 200-300 kilograms, which is about three to four times the weight of a human.
Earlier research has indicated that giganto’s habitat shrunk significantly around 330,000 years ago. However, determining the reason for its extinction has been difficult due to uncertainty about the exact time of its disappearance.
According to Dr. Kira Westaway, co-author of the study from Macquarie University, having an incorrect timeline can lead to searching for clues in the incorrect locations.
Previous beliefs suggested that the decline of forests led to the extinction of G blacki, as it was unable to survive in grasslands. However, our research reveals that this transition to savannah actually took place around 200,000 years ago, after G blacki had already become extinct.
In a publication in the scientific journal Nature, Westaway and his team discuss their utilization of various methods to determine the age of gigantopithecus teeth found in 11 different Chinese caves, as well as the age of the cave sediments. Additionally, they examined the sediments of 11 other caves where no remains of gigantopithecus were discovered.
Giganto became extinct approximately 295,000 to 215,000 years ago, according to the findings. The team also reconstructed the habitat of giganto by examining pollen, animal remains, and cave sediments, as well as analyzing stable carbon and oxygen isotopes.
The findings indicate that approximately 700,000 to 600,000 years ago, the environment surrounding gigantos shifted from dense forests with some areas of grassland to more open forests. This change seems to be a consequence of climate change, moving away from previously stable conditions.
According to Westaway, our wet season and dry season are both exceptionally strong.
This alteration affected the plant communities in the forest, resulting in a shortage of fruits that were previously available all year round during dry spells.
The researchers investigated the evolving food choices of gigantopithecus by examining the wear marks on its teeth and analyzing its internal chemistry. They contrasted their discoveries with those of the Chinese orangutan, a closely related species that became extinct at a later time.
The findings indicate that the orangutan primarily consumed leaves and flowers from the top of the forest instead of fruit. On the other hand, giganto, who had limited mobility and foraging abilities, had a different strategy. Westaway explained, “The crucial factor in [the apes’] survival was their choice of backup food.” Giganto opted for a less nutritious option, consuming fibrous items such as bark and twigs on the ground.
Approximately 300,000 years ago, the giganto populations were facing challenges. According to Westaway, gigantos, who were highly specialized in their diet and habitat, were unable to adapt.
According to Professor Hervé Bocherens from the University of Tuebingen, a previous study he conducted also revealed that the inflexibility of giganto’s diet was a contributing factor to its extinction. This suggests that, despite other species in the same location consuming grass from savannahs, giganto remained solely reliant on plants from a heavily forested area.
However, he stated, “Our previous research lacked the same strong chronological framework as this new paper, preventing us from creating a scenario as comprehensive as the authors.”
According to Westaway, the study has significant ramifications, considering the worries about a potential sixth mass extinction. She emphasized the importance of comprehending how primates react to environmental strains and why certain species may be more susceptible or resilient than others.