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Giant ape

An ancient "King Kong" ape, the largest in the history of the planet, may have been a victim of climate change that drove it to extinction, a new study suggests.

The giant primate Gigantopithecus, standing 10 feet tall and weighing as much as 1,100 pounds, died out around 100,000 years ago when forests of fruit-bearing trees, its main food source, disappeared with climate change, replaced by savannah ecosystems of less nutritious grasses, researchers say.

A million years ago, the giant creatures roamed semi-tropical forests in the south of China and throughout mainland Southeast Asia.

Fossil remains of the creature are sparse — a few lower jaws and around 1,000 teeth — but they're enough to draw some conclusions about its diet and determine it was a vegetarian, researchers report in the journal Quaternary International.

That diet was an important factor in the evolutionary fate of Giganthropicus, they say.

"Our results indicate that the large primates only lived in the forest and obtained their food from this habitat," study author Hervé Bocherens of the University of Tübingen in Germany explains.

That made the ancient relatives of the orangutan dependent on fruit-bearing trees and forested areas, large areas of which were wiped out in an ice age during the Pleistocene epoch.

While other species of apes and early humans in Africa were able to survive the environmental changes, the giant ape did not, researchers note.

"Due to its size, Gigantopithecus presumably depended on a large amount of food," Bocherons says. "When during the Pleistocene era, more and more forested areas turned into Savannah landscapes, there was simply an insufficient food supply."

It was probably not the only species to be affected by climate change, since many other large animals went extinct on the Asian continent during the period, the researchers note.

In the ongoing game of evolutionary roulette that saw other apes and early humans come out winners, the giant ape apparently was the loser, the report authors say.

Because of its huge size, it was probably too heavy to scale trees and reach food higher up; that and its restriction to one type of habitat may have contributed to its doom as that habitat disappeared, they say.

"Gigantopithecus probably did not have the same ecological flexibility and possibly lacked the physiological ability to resist stress and food shortage" other apes and humans possessed, the researchers note.

Source: Techtimes

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