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Nutr Health. 2002;16(4):267-89.

Wading for food the driving force of the evolution of bipedalism?

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29 Hazlemere Road, Penn, Buckinghamshire, HP10 8AD, UK.


Evidence is accumulating that suggests that the large human brain is most likely to have evolved in littoral and estuarine habitats rich in naturally occurring essential fatty acids. This paper adds further weight to this view, suggesting that another key human trait, our bipedality might also be best explained as an adaptation to a water-side niche. Evidence is provided here that extant apes, although preferring to keep dry, go into water when driven to do so by hunger. The anecdotal evidence has suggested that they tend to do this bipedally. Here, a new empirical study of captive bonobos found them to exhibit 2% or less bipedality on the ground or in trees but over 90% when wading in water to collect food. The skeletal morphology of AL 288-1 ("Lucy") is shown to indicate a strong ability to abduct and adduct the femur. These traits, together with a remarkably platypelloid pelvis, have not yet been adequately explained by terrestrial or arboreal models for early bipedalism but are consistent with those expected in an ape that adopted a specialist side-to-side 'ice-skating' or sideways wading mode. It is argued that this explanation of A. afarensis locomotor morphology is more parsimonious than others which have plainly failed to produce a consensus. Microwear evidence of Australopithecus dentition is also presented as evidence that the drive for such a wading form of locomotion might well have been waterside foods. This model obtains further support from the paleo-habitats of the earliest known bipeds, which are consistent with the hypothesis that wading contributed to the adaptive pressure towards bipedality.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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