From Washington Post:
These ancient Asian primate fossils might be the missing pieces of a major evolutionary puzzle
In a study published Thursday in the journal Science, Beard and his colleagues at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing report on an “incredible cache” of fossils from 10 previously unknown species uncovered in China’s Yunnan province. These fossils help illuminate a new story of our evolution: one in which our primate ancestors evolved in Asia, sailed across a narrow sea to Africa, then were pushed to extinction on their home continent because of drastic climate change. Some of the only primates that survived were the ones whose fossils were just uncovered — primitive creatures that were closer to lemurs than apes and humans living today.
This more convoluted version of our history begins in the Eocene, some 40 million years ago. At this time, Earth’s climate was hot and humid, and the continents were just beginning to move into the positions they hold today. India was zooming headlong toward the bottom of Asia (the inevitable collision would one day give rise to the Himalayas). An inland sea flooded the center of the Eurasian land mass. And Africa was an island continent, separated from Asia and Europe by a narrow stretch of ocean.
Good thing they are calling it a “version.” This is beginning to sound like a celeb split, but keep reading.
Early anthropoid (humanlike) monkeys were flourishing in Asia at that time. But they also, somehow, found a way to migrate across the watery barrier to Africa. And since monkeys don’t really swim, scientists’ best theory about their migration is — I kid you not — that they sailed across on rafts made of trees. More.
Here’s the abstract:
Profound environmental and faunal changes are associated with climatic deterioration during the Eocene-Oligocene transition (EOT) roughly 34 million years ago. Reconstructing how Asian primates responded to the EOT has been hindered by a sparse record of Oligocene primates on that continent. Here, we report the discovery of a diverse primate fauna from the early Oligocene of southern China. In marked contrast to Afro-Arabian Oligocene primate faunas, this Asian fauna is dominated by strepsirhines. There appears to be a strong break between Paleogene and Neogene Asian anthropoid assemblages. Asian and Afro-Arabian primate faunas responded differently to EOT climatic deterioration, indicating that the EOT functioned as a critical evolutionary filter constraining the subsequent course of primate evolution across the Old World.Paper. (paywall) – Xijun Ni, Qiang Li, Lüzhou Li, K. Christopher Beard. Oligocene primates from China reveal divergence between African and Asian primate evolution. Science, 2016 DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf2107
Raft world. Okay.
A paleontologist friend is puzzled and writes to say, far from simply providing the claimed “missing link”, this version poses a serious problem because it requires considerable nautical survival skills from the primates clinging to tree rafts.
Here are the oceans they would cross at 30-40 million year ago, not at all the geography of today. Africa was not connected to Asia at all. And how much do we know about what those seas were like?
Well, another day, another fossil.
See also: A raft of raft stories
Latest: Rodents who floated across the Atlantic on vegetation rafts
Pumice rafts “floating laboratories” for early life.
Crocodiles swam to North America?
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