London, March 7 (ANI): Two University of Cambridge scientists believe the world’s tiniest monkey could unravel the mysterious origins of Homo floresiensis, the “hobbit” human relative.
Remains of the species were discovered in 2003 on the island of Flores in Indonesia.
As the hobbit’s skull is similar to that of a taller hominin, Homo erectus, some scientists believe that H. floresiensis was a dwarf species that evolved from this larger one, according to the New Scientist.
But its brain and teeth are proportionally much smaller than in typical dwarf species, which led others to suggest that the hobbit is merely an unusual form of our species and was not a typical dwarf.
Now, Stephen Montgomery and Nicholas Mundy at the University of Cambridge have looked at pygmy marmosets (Callithrixpygmaea) to shed light on the mystery of the hobbit. These monkeys have previously been considered as a dwarf species, but they also have unusually small teeth.
This pointed against dwarfism, said Montgomery.
Using a primate evolutionary tree, the researchers have confirmed that these monkeys did indeed evolve from larger ancestors and undergo dwarfism.
They have offered an explanation to their small teeth.
The evolution of a dwarf species usually involves shortening the length of pregnancy or infancy, but recently it has been suggested that there might be a more unusual route: pregnancy length stays the same but the growth of the fetus slows down. This might influence brain and tooth size as these develop early, the researchers suggested.
Montgomery and Mundy found that the pygmy marmoset’s pregnancy and infancy are similar in length to their evolutionarily close, larger relations.
This suggests that they took the unconventional route to small stature, they wrote in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology.
If H. floresiensis is a dwarf, one of the controversies has been whether it fits with previous patterns of dwarfism, noted Montgomery.
The new analysis suggests it may fit with what is seen in pygmy marmosets, he added. (ANI)