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J Hum Evol. 2006 Apr;50(4):414-30. Epub 2005 Dec 20.

Adaptive origins of primates revisited.

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Human Origins Group, Department of Palaeontology, The Natural History Museum, London SW7 5BD, UK.


Interpretation of the adaptive profile of ancestral primates is controversial and has been constrained for decades by general acceptance of the premise that the first primates were very small. Here we show that neither the fossil record nor modern species provide evidence that the last common ancestor of living primates was small. Instead, comparative weight distributions of arboreal mammals and a phylogenetic reconstruction of ancestral primate body mass indicate that the reduction of functional claws to nails -- a primate characteristic that had up until now eluded satisfactory explanation - resulted from an increase in body mass to around 1000 g or more in the primate stem lineage. The associated shift to a largely vegetarian diet coincided with increased angiosperm diversity and the evolution of larger fruit size during the Late Cretaceous.

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