Tough life on the savannah

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Chimpanzees are generally known as the ripe-fruit specialist among the great apes, but they also incorporate other food items, such as leaves and seedpods, into their diets.Chimpanzees inhabit both rainforests and savannah regions of Africa, and their diets vary accordingly. Forest dwelling chimpanzees mostly feed on ripe fruits commonly considered easy to process, while savannah chimpanzees include more challenging non-fruit items into their diet.
Vicky Oelze, an assistant professor of anthropology at UC Santa Cruz, participated in a new study led by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig that analyzed the mechanical properties and the isotopic composition of plant foods eaten by chimpanzees living in the tropical forest and savannah woodland.
They found that the savannah chimpanzees eat foods that are more mechanically challenging and therefore may place higher selective pressures on their chewing apparatus compared to their counterparts living in the rainforest. Since early hominins likely evolved in an environment similar to that of today’s savannah woodland chimpanzees, early human ancestors may have encountered similarly challenging foods.
“If we better understand the foundations and interactions of food material properties, dental wear processes, and isotopes in modern chimpanzees, it opens a window into the past and helps to interpret the data obtained from fossil specimens who lived in the African savannah several million years ago,” explained Oelze, a guest researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, who conducted the stable isotope analysis while she was a postdoctoral researcher there. Oelze’s research focuses on primate ecology, prehistoric diets, and the feeding ecology of great apes.
Savannah chimpanzees are thought to rely on non-fruit resources more than their forest counterparts. The mechanical properties of plant foods can vary substantially but until this study, there had been no comparative data available for chimpanzee populations living in distinct habitat types.
Adam van Casteren of the …

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