A number of lower-body features indicate that Dryopithecus favored climbing and swinging from one tree branch to another at a fairly slow pace, much in the fashion of modern orangutans, the Spanish researchers contend.
Moya-Sola and Koehler theorize that a common ancestor of all later apes and hominids existed well before Dryopithecus first appeared in Europe 12 million years ago.
In that case, Asian apes would have descended from Dryopithecus, evolving bodies built for slow climbing and hanging from branches, the scientists hold, whereas African apes veered toward a four-legged gait on the ground and hominids adopted an upright stance.
The Spanish Dryopithecus find indeed shows some similarities to orangutans, but its evolutionary position cannot yet be firmly established, assert Peter Andrews of the Natural History Museum in London and David Pilbeam of Harvard University in an accompanying commentary.
7 Nature, the two investigators offer a theory of how Dryopithecus evolved.
Controversy over the evolution of Dryopithecus will undoubtedly continue, assert Lawrence Martin of the State University of New York at Stony Brook and Peter Andrews of the Natural History Museum in London.
The jury is still out" regarding much of the facial anatomy of Dryopithecus, Ward cautions.
Dryopithecus specimens from Rudabanya, which continue to emerge in ongoing excavations, offer insight into key areas of anatomical variation among apes and hominids, he says.