Fossil Forest Discovery Sheds Light on Environment Inhabited by Early Apes

Posted on February 27, 2014

Proconsul and Dendropithecus in ancient closed canopy tropical seasonal forest

A fossil forest discovery by researchers from Baylor University and an international team of scientists has shed light on the environment inhabited by early apes on Rusinga Island, Kenya. Researchers found fossils of tree stumps, calcified roots and fossil leaves. Researchers say the fossil find indicates that Proconsul and its primate relative, Dendropithecus, lived in a dense, closed canopy tropical seasonal forest about 18 to 20 million years ago. The research was published here in Nature Communications.

Daniel Peppe, Ph.D., assistant professor of geology in Baylor's College of Arts and Sciences and co-author of the study, says in a Baylor release, "Our research findings provide direct evidence and confirm where the early ape lived about 18 to 20 million years ago. We now know that Proconsul lived in a closed-canopy, tropical seasonal forest set in a warm and relatively wet local climate."

Fossils of a single Proconsul were also found among the geological fossil forest deposits.

Lauren Michel, lead author of the study and a doctoral student in the geology department at Baylor, says, "The varying diameters of the tree stumps coupled with their density within the fossil soil, implies that the forest would have been comprised of trees with interlocking or overlapping branches, thus creating a canopy."

Here is a science bulletin from the American Museum of Natural History about research into the environments inhabited by primitive primates. Take a look:

Image: Courtesy of Jason Brougham