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J Hum Evol. 2000 Aug;39(2):131-57.

The influence of life history and diet on the distribution of catarrhine primates during the Pleistocene in eastern Asia.

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Department of Anthropology, California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco 94118-4599, USA.


Environmental changes during the Pleistocene in eastern Asia had profound impacts on the distributions of mammalian groups. Critical for many mammals were the southward latitudinal shifts of the tropical and subtropical vegetational zones, and decreases in the areas of these zones. Examination of the responses of members of a single clade, the Catarrhini, indicates that the main catarrhine genera of eastern Asia responded individually to the environmental changes in the Pleistocene. These responses were influenced by the life history parameters and diets of the genera involved. Those animals (macaques, langurs) with shorter gestation times, shorter weaning periods, shorter interbirth intervals, higher intrinsic rates of increase of population, and abilities to survive on a wider variety of vegetation in seasonal habitats were less adversely affected than those (gibbons, orangutans and the giant extinct hominoid, Gigantopithecus) with more protracted reproductive schedules, lower intrinsic rates of population increase and preferences for the higher quality foods (especially ripe fruits) of less seasonal environments. Hominids, while displaying "hyper-ape" life history parameters, increasingly overcame the constraints of these parameters through extrasomatic means not available to other catarrhines. This ability made possible their colonization, by the Late Pleistocene, of highly seasonal habitats such as tundra, which were off-limits to non-culture-bearing catarrhines.

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