A study released by the University of Kansas and the Chinese Academy of Sciences‘ Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology showed a “mother lode” of newly found fossil primates. The species was found in southern China, which revealed the species that first emerged in Asia. The existence of these primates, according to the scientists, began after Eocene-Oligocene transition.

The Eocene-Oligocene transition (EOT) functioned as a critical filtering episode during the evolutionary history of primates. Credit: phys.org

The climate changes drastic diminished their populations and force the species to evolve, so these findings are especially rare. The study aims to explain the Asia-Africa dynamic in the line of primate evolution, as well as demonstrate how sensitive primates are to climate change, which can extend to humans.

This sensibility to climate conditions can go to the extent that species can disappear -as happened with North American and European species that went extinct. Species can find themselves in very hard conditions around the world, since the preferred environment is usually warm and wet, conditions that were not available around the ancient world.

According to the press release published by the University of Texas, understanding the fate of these primates is key to grasping the arc of early primate and human evolution, because anthropoid primates that first appeared in Asia are  the forerunners of living monkeys, apes, and humans.

The discoveries

The study discovered six new species of fossil primates allegedly dating up to 34 million years ago from southern China. However, fossils found were mostly just jaw and tooth fragments, that survived the long period of time and climate conditions thanks to the enamel surfaces.

Christopher Beard, co-author of the study stated that the fossil record can never provide full data enough to discover the entire line of primate evolution, however, it gives snapshots of what ancient life was like. Beard also said that clearly, some primates managed to survive, with the continuous existence of human-like species in Africa and Southern Asia that eventually became the modern human as proof.

Beard said to the Kansas University News Service about the nature of the discoveries and their importance to science:

If you look back at the fossil record, we know that tarsiers once lived on mainland Asia, as far north as central China. The fossil teeth described in this paper are nearly identical to those of modern tarsiers. Research shows that modern tarsiers are pretty much living fossils — those things have been doing what they do ever since time immemorial, as far as we can tell. If not for the intense global cooling of the Eocene-Oligocene transition, the main stage of primate evolution may have continued to be in Asia, rather than transitioning to Africa where Homo sapiens eventually emerged.

Source: Science Mag