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Keywords:

  • bipedalism;
  • chimpanzee;
  • arboreality;
  • human evolution

Abstract

Field observations of bipedal posture and locomotion in wild chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) can serve as key evidence for reconstructing the likely origins of bipedalism in the last prehominid human ancestor. This paper reports on a sample of bipedal bouts, recorded ad libitum, in wild chimpanzees in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in southwestern Uganda. The Ruhija community of chimpanzees in Bwindi displays a high rate of bipedal posture. In 246.7 hr of observation from 2001–2003, 179 instances of bipedal posture lasting 5 sec or longer were recorded, for a rate of 0.73 bouts per observation hour. Bipedalism was observed only on arboreal substrates, and was almost all postural, and not locomotor. Bipedalism was part of a complex series of positional behaviors related to feeding, which included two-legged standing, one-legged standing with arm support, and other intermediate postures. Ninety-six percent of bipedal bouts occurred in a foraging context, always as a chimpanzee reached to pluck fruit from tree limbs. Bipedalism was seen in both male and female adults, less frequently among juveniles, and rarely in infants. Both the frequency and duration of bipedal bouts showed a significant positive correlation with estimated substrate diameter. Neither fruit size nor nearest-neighbor association patterns were significantly correlated with the occurrence of bipedalism. Bipedalism is seen frequently in the Bwindi chimpanzee community, in part because of the unusual observer conditions at Bwindi. Most observations of bipedalism were made when the animals were in treetops and the observer at eye-level across narrow ravines. This suggests that wild chimpanzees may engage in bipedal behavior more often than is generally appreciated. Models of the likely evolutionary origins of bipedalism are considered in the light of Bwindi bipedalism data. Bipedalism among Bwindi chimpanzees suggests the origin of bipedal posture in hominids to be related to foraging advantages in fruit trees. It suggests important arboreal advantages in upright posture. The origin of postural bipedalism may have preceded and been causally disconnected from locomotor bipedalism. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2006. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.