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A new study by Herman Pontzer, PhD, assistant professor of anthropology in Arts & Sciences, suggests that orangutans use less energy than even sendentary humans.
Pontzer and his team spent two weeks studying daily energy expenditure of orangutans in the Great Ape Trust, a 230-acre campus in Des Moines, Iowa.
The study revealed an extremely low rate of energy use not previously observed in primates, but consistent with slow growth and low rate of reproduction in orangutans.
Pontzer suggests this may be an evolutionary response to severe food shortages in the orangutan's native Southeast Asian rainforests. The rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra are highly random environments that often experience crashes in the availability of ripe fruit, the food on which orangutans depend.
The study suggests that orangutans have adapted over time by becoming consummate low-energy specialists, decreasing their daily energy needs to avoid starvation in food-poor times.
Pontzer thinks this research also may shed light on the evolved energy use of other primates, as well as human foragers. He plans to expand the study.
Source: Washington State in St.Louis