Chris Beard

Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Into Africa: New constraints on the anthropoid colonization of Africa

Chris Beard
Director, Center for Evolutionary Studies and Mary R. Dawson Chair of Vertebrate Paleontology,
Carnegie Museum of Natural History

Noon–1 p.m.
Earth Theater, First Floor
Carnegie Museum of Natural History

Photo: Part of Chris Beard’s international team of American, French, and Libyan scientists searching for the earliest African anthropoids at the volcanic caldera of Waw an Namus in southern Libya

For more than twenty years, Chris Beard and his colleagues have been searching for clues about the geographic and phylogenetic origins of Anthropoidea (the clade that now includes monkeys, apes, and humans). Beard's research has been driven by paleontological fieldwork in Asia (China and Myanmar) and Africa (Libya). Results show that previous hypotheses supporting an African origin for anthropoids are incorrect. The anthropoid clade arose in Asia no later than the middle Eocene and colonized Africa no later than the late middle Eocene. The colonization of Africa by early anthropoids may itself have stimulated rapid diversification and morphological innovation within the anthropoid clade, possibly leading to the modern anthropoid bauplan. Recent results of Beard's work in Myanmar and Libya show that the colonization of Africa by early anthropoids was not a simple affair, either biogeographically or phylogenetically. At least two clades of early anthropoids colonized Africa from Asia, possibly at the same time. Hystricognathous rodents show a similar phylogenetic, biogeographic, and temporal pattern of distribution. The underlying biological and/or geological factors contributing to this large-scale pattern remain largely unknown, however.

Related Publication: Y. Chaimanee, O. Chavasseau, K.C. Beard, et al. (2012). Late middle Eocene primate from Myanmar and the initial anthropoid colonization of Africa. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109: 10293-10297.

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