A scientific study has determined that bipedalism in humans may be a result of foraging in treetops

The researchers suggested that human ancestors may have started moving around on two legs to forage among treetops in open habitats, contradicting the idea that the behavior arose as an adaptation to spending more time on the ground.

The origins of bipedalism in hominins around 7 million years ago have long been thought to be related to a shift in the environment, when dense forests began to give way to more open woodland and grassland habitats. In such circumstances, it has been argued, our ancestors would have spent more time on the ground than in trees, and were able to move more efficiently on two legs.

But now researchers studying chimpanzees in Tanzania say the trait may have different origins. “I think we told this logical story a long time ago, which at least is not really supported by our data,” said Dr Alex Bell, a biological anthropologist at University College London and one of the authors of the paper.

Writing in the journal Science Advances, the researchers spent 15 months studying 13 chimpanzees living in Wadi Isa in western Tanzania, an environment similar to that of our ancient ancestors.

The results reveal that these chimpanzees spent a greater proportion of their time on the ground, and in motion, when in an open environment of forests and grasses than in the heavily forested parts of the same area.

However, even in the open environment, the proportion of time spent on the ground by chimpanzees was similar to that previously recorded for other groups of monkeys living in densely forested areas, including Gombe and Mahal.

Although there are far fewer trees, [the chimps are] Bill said.

The team then combined data on different environments in Wadi Isa and analyzed how often the chimpanzees stood or moved around on two legs.

The results revealed that while bipedalism represented less than 1% of recorded situations, only 14% concerned chimpanzees on land.

“Most of the time they spend on two legs is in the trees,” Bell said, adding that the behavior, at least among branches, seems to be commonly associated with foraging.

Open forests could favor bipedalism in chimpanzees, and thus early human ancestors, because such environments have more sparse trees than dense forests, said Rhianna Drummond-Clark, first author of the research from the University of Kent.

“[Bipedalism may help them] Safely and effectively navigate the flexible branches and reach for as many fruits as they can when they find them.”

The team says that while the study can’t prove that our human ancestors exhibited the same patterns of bipedal behavior, it does question common assumptions about how humans walked on two legs, and suggests that trees continued to play a role in our evolutionary story. Even with changing environment.

“Time on earth is rather motivating [bipedalism]He might have triggered it, but it was already there,” Bell said. “And that fits very well with the fossil record because all of these early humans had both arboreal and terrestrial adaptations.”

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