The emergence and spread of savannas in Africa during the past five million years is often cited as a major factor in hominid evolution. Tropical savannas are different from forests in having less rainfall, which is strongly seasonal and often very unpredictable, even within seasons (Bourliere & Hadley 1983; Solbrig 1996). Human ancestors are thought to have moved into savannas as a response to cooling and drying climates, and the exigencies of the savanna environment – including the marked seasonal changes in plant food availability – are often cited as key selective pressures shaping the hominid lineage (see reviews and references in Foley [1987, 1993], Potts [1998a, 1998b], Klein , and Chapters 4, 5, and 17). This scenario invites a careful examination of responses to seasonality in extant savanna-dwelling primates.
Like most vertebrates, the large majority of primate species exhibit reproductive seasonality that reflects the seasonality of their habitats (see review in Chapter 11). Indeed, among savanna-dwelling primates, there are only two exceptions to the rule of seasonal reproduction: humans and baboons (genus Papio). This shared characteristic – the ability to reproduce throughout the year in seasonal environments – may be related to the extraordinary success of these two genera. While only humans (and their commensals) have spread across the globe, baboons have achieved a nearly continental distribution in Africa.
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