Friday, 10 November 2017

The first ancestors of giant pandas probably lived in Europe

27 October 2017

By Jasmin Fox-Skelly

A bear very similar to a panda lived in what’s now Hungary 10 million years ago. The creature ate a similar diet to modern giant pandas, suggesting their unusual bamboo-chewing lifestyle has survived through evolutionary time. The finding also adds to the evidence that pandas originated in Europe, not Asia.

The giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) is only found in forested mountain ranges in central China. It famously eats little but indigestible bamboo, despite having the digestive system of a carnivore, and is one of the world’s most iconic vulnerable species. This black-and-white bear is the only surviving member of the Ailuropodinae subfamily, part of the larger Ursidae family.

Nobody really knows how the giant panda evolved. Few fossils of its relatives have been found, so its lineage is almost as hotly debated as that of humans.

Now palaeoanthropologist David Begun at the University of Toronto in Canada has found a set of fossil teeth in the town of Rudabánya, Hungary. The site previously yielded the remains of an ancient great ape called Rudapithecus, a possible ancestor of African great apes and humans.
Begun was looking for ancient hominid bones when he spotted the teeth trapped beneath a rhino’s shoulder blade. The teeth are 10 million years old, placing them in the late Miocene.

Suspecting they belonged to a panda, based on their shape, Begun enlisted the help of Louis de Bonis at the University of Poitiers in France and Juan Abella at the State University Santa Elena Peninsula in Ecuador.

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