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November 30 2012

Primate Origins Tied to Rise of Flowering Plants

One of the great origin stories in the history of mammals is the rise of primates. It's a story that scientists are still trying to write.

In the early 20th century, anatomists believed primates united by big brains, grasping hands and feet, and excellent vision, among other features-evolved in response to living in trees. In the 1970s, however, biological anthropologist Matt Cartmill realized an arboreal lifestyle alone wasn't enough to explain primates unique set of characteristics. Plenty of mammals, like chipmunks, live in trees but don't have nimble hands or closely spaced, forward-facing eyes that allow for good depth perception. Instead, Cartmill suggested these features evolved because early primates were insect predators. He noted that many modern predators, such as cats and owls, have forward-facing eyes because they rely on good vision to grab prey. In the case of early primates, Cartmill said, they hunted tree-dwelling insects.

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