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Breakfast of Champions

The Importance of Fruit in the Cognitive Evolution of Great Apes



Co Authors:

Amber J. Raven
Biological Sciences and Behavioral Neurosciences
St. Edward’s University

Jessica Williamson
Biological Sciences and Behavioral Neurosciences
St. Edward’s University

Raelynn D. Haynes
Biological Sciences
St. Edward’s University
paulad@stedwards.edu

Abstract:

This case study was developed for an upper-level undergraduate evolution course in order to provide an example of natural selection in hominids and encourage critical thinking and understanding of the subject. The case focuses on the cognitive evolution of great apes in response to diet specialization. Orangutans, along with other great apes, are in decline globally due to habitat loss and changing environments. Because of great ape life history traits, their high cognitive function, and diets that specialize on ephemeral fruits, they are faced with a situation where they may not be able to adapt to rapidly changing environments. This may lead to a “cognitive trap” whereby their high cognitive functioning may ultimately help lead to their extinction. The case provides an overview of how natural selection shapes adaptations in great apes, such as dentition morphology, in response to diet. Finally, the case provides a review of natural selection and its requirements, how selection can lead to adaptations, and how some traits may even become maladaptive when environmental conditions vary.

Objectives:
  • Identify the conditions necessary for natural selection.
  • Describe why natural selection acts on the individual, but its consequences occur in populations.
  • Explain why natural selection does not lead to perfection.
  • Explain and give examples of how natural selection may have led to certain traits.
  • Describe how natural selection can lead to adaptive traits, but sometimes adaptions can become maladaptive.
  • Explain how knowledge of evolution can help conserve endangered species such as great apes.
  • Describe life history traits and how they interact with natural selection.
  • Explain the importance of trade-offs in life history traits, and give an example of a trade-off in great apes.
  • Explain the concept of evolutionary constraint and how this might influence the evolution of the great apes.
Keywords: Great apes; orangutan; cognitive evolution; cognitive trap; diet; natural selection; adaptation; trade-offs
Topical Area: N/A
Educational Level: Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division
Formats: PDF
Type/Method: Discussion, Journal Article
Language: English
Subject Headings: Biology (General)   Ecology   Evolutionary Biology   Zoology  
Date Posted: 10/19/2018
Date Modified: N/A
Copyright: Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.

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