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News/Press releases

Contact: Sandra Jacob (e-mail: info@[>>> Please remove the brackets! <<<]eva.mpg.de, phone: +49 (0) 341-3550 122)


February 17, 2020: Reconstructing the diet of fossil vertebrates
© Nicolas Bourgon

The ratio of special zinc isotopes in dental enamel provides information about the diet of mammals in prehistoric times

Paleodietary studies of the fossil record are impeded by a lack of reliable and unequivocal tracers, currently making it impossible to determine the exact timing of dietary changes or, often, even the species involved. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz and the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz have now tested a new method, the isotope analysis of zinc isotopes from the tooth enamel of fossil mammals. They found this method to be well suited to expand our knowledge about the diets of fossil humans and other Pleistocene mammals. The method proves especially useful when it comes to differentiating whether prehistoric mammals had mainly animal or plant based food on the menu.

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February 14, 2020: Researchers were not right about left brains
© Simon Neubauer, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Brain imprints on cranial bones from great apes and humans refute the long-held notion that the human pattern of brain asymmetry is unique

The left and right side of the brain are involved in different tasks. This functional lateralization and associated brain asymmetry are well documented in humans, but little is known about brain asymmetry in our closest living relatives, the great apes. Using endocasts (imprints of the brain on cranial bones), scientists now challenge the long-held notion that the human pattern of brain asymmetry is unique. They found the same asymmetry pattern in chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans. However, humans were the most variable in this pattern. This suggests that lateralized, uniquely human cognitive abilities, such as language, evolved by adapting a presumably ancestral asymmetry pattern.

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February 06, 2020: Japan Prize 2020 goes to Svante Pääbo
© Karsten Möbius

Geneticist Svante Pääbo honoured for his work into human origins

Svante Pääbo, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, is the founder of palaeogenetics, a research discipline concerned with the analysis of genetic samples from fossils and prehistoric finds. Which of the genetic changes that occurred in the course of evolutionary history make up modern man is what Pääbo studies by comparing the DNA sequences of modern-day humans, Neanderthals and other human ancestors. His groundbreaking research has now earned him the Japan Prize, which is endowed with mit 50 million Yen (approx. 490,000 euros).

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January 07, 2020: The growing pains of orphan chimpanzees
© Liran Samuni

Mothers may be shaping pre-adult growth and offspring muscle mass even without direct provisioning

Like humans, young chimpanzees associate with their mothers all the way into adulthood. Unlike in humans, offspring no longer depend on maternal food sharing beyond the weaning age. Therefore, the reasons for and consequences of these years of post-weaning mother-offspring associations are unclear. Using long-term behavioural and hormonal data from wild chimpanzees in the Taï Forest, Côte d’Ivoire, researchers from the Taï Chimpanzee Project at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, have revealed that mothers may be shaping pre-adult growth and offspring muscle mass even without direct provisioning. We compared growth of young chimpanzees with a mother until adulthood compared to those who had experienced maternal loss after weaning.

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January 03, 2020: Less offspring due to territorial conflicts
© Liran Samuni

Female chimpanzees’ reproductive success decreases in times of strong territorial conflict with other groups

Territorial conflicts can turn violent in humans and chimpanzees, two extremely territorial species. An international team of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, has studied the effects of territoriality on female reproductive success in wild Western chimpanzees and found that high neighbor pressure at times when females typically reproduce can lead to reproductive delays with longer intervals between births. Having many males in a group, however, is of advantage and speeds up reproduction.

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