Evolution of African great apes
Andrews, Peter Department of Palaeontology, Natural History Museum, London, United Kingdom.
Last reviewed:February 2017
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- Fossil evidence
- Relation to extant African apes
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- Additional Readings
There are four species of African great apes living today, two chimpanzees [common chimpanzee (Fig. 1) and bonobo (pygmy chimpanzee)] and two gorillas (western gorilla and eastern gorilla), with degrees of subspecies differentiation within them. Evidence is equivocal in determining the relationships of the African apes with each other and with humans: morphologically, chimpanzees and gorillas are more similar to each other than either is to humans, whereas molecular evidence indicates that chimpanzees and humans shared a common ancestor distinct from that of gorillas. Dating divergence times by the so-called molecular clock (wherein gene mutations occur at a relatively constant rate of molecular evolution) indicates that chimpanzees and humans diverged from each other about 6 million years ago (MYA), and the separation of the chimp–human clade from gorillas is put about 2 million years earlier. See also: Animal evolution; Anthropology; Apes; Dating methods; Molecular anthropology; Phylogeny; Speciation
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