Giant pandas won bamboo food wars over Giganto apes half a million years ago

December 29th, 2007 - 1:34 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of National Geographic
Washington, Dec 29 (ANI): Paleontologists have discovered the 400,000-year-old fossils of a giant panda, alongside the remains of a large ancient ape in the tropical coast of southern China, which suggest that the two animals competed for habitat and food nearly half a million years ago.

Found by paleontologists at Beijing’s Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, the fossils were excavated from a limestone cave on the island province of Hainan.

According to a report in National Geographic News, Hainan Island was a bamboo-covered, hilly peninsula 400,000 years ago. Today, it is an island separated from the Chinese mainland by a 15-mile-wide (25-kilometer-wide) strait.

The new findings indicate that the pandas and the giant apes competed with each other for the bamboos.

The fossils suggest that both the giant pandas and the Giganto apes survived on a mostly bamboo diet, said Huang Wanbo, a paleontologist at the institute.

Paleontologists even point to the struggle over food and habitat as the reason for the Giganto Ape becoming extinct about 300,000 years ago.

The ape lost out in a three-way struggle with giant pandas and early humans over food and habitat, said Huang.

Evidence of the three-way struggle was found when fossils of this early human speciesa hunter-gatherer known as Peking Man or Homo erectuswere uncovered around Beijing in northern China, about 1,200 miles (2,000 kilometers) north of Hainan.

If early humansarmed with primitive weapons like stone axes and firemigrated like the panda through what is now southern China, they likely had contact with the giant apes, said Huang.

But since no Homo erectus fossils have been found in what is now southern China, researchers are not sure if the Giganto ape was the first loser in a survival competition with pandas and primitive humans.

“The panda and the Giganto were living side by side in these subtropical forests, and probably competing for food resources,” said Russell Ciochon, a professor at the University of Iowa who has joined several fossil digs in China. “But Homo erectus was likely to be living in other habitats,” he added.

The findings have also given scientists clues about the panda’s eight-million-year-long evolution from a meat-eater into a reclusive bamboo-eater.

According to scientists, the earliest pandas were fierce carnivores. While technically classified as omnivores, today’s pandas primarily depend on bamboo, which they spend an average of 12 hours a day eating.

The new fossils suggest the panda of 400,000 years ago, which was slightly larger than the modern giant panda, had by that time already become completely dependent on bamboo for survival, said Huang. (ANI)

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