The Gigantopithecus blacki, a primate that lived in China and stood about three meters tall, became extinct due to difficulties in adapting to the changing climate, according to a study published in the journal Nature by scientists from Macquarie University in Sydney.
Led by Yingqi Zhang and Kira Westaway, the team collected and dated fossil samples from 22 caves in southern China. Analyses of the teeth of G. Blacki and the also extinct Pongo weidenreichi were used to determine variations in the diet and behavior of the two species.
The analysis of pollen, as reported by the researchers, indicates that 2.3 million years ago, the environment consisted of dense forests, ideal for the survival of the large primate. It is believed that both species lived in these closed canopy forest areas, with a significant seasonal food variability and a constant availability of water.
During the extinction window, between 295 and 215 thousand years ago, changes in plant and forest communities may have caused a transition in the environment to which G. blacki could not adapt. Fossil evidence also suggests that the landscape transformed into open forests, reducing food diversification and water availability for primates.
On the other hand, P. weidenreichi seems to have adapted to these changes with a significantly higher success rate. The results, according to experts, fill a fundamental gap in our understanding of the motivations behind the extinction of this species. Standing approximately three meters tall with a weight ranging between 200 and 300 kilograms, Gigantopithecus blacki is considered the largest primate to have ever existed on Earth.
Its remains were found in China between two million and 330 thousand years after its disappearance. The distribution of the most recent fossils suggests that the habitat of the species had undergone a considerable reduction close to their extinction.
The timing and reasons for this decline were previously shrouded in mystery. In this study, the authors present a precise timeline to highlight the stages associated with the disappearance of G. blacki, which, according to the findings, struggled much more to adapt to the evolving environment compared to other primates.