Washington: The massive mandible, large teeth and extremely thick enamel of Gigantopithecus blacki - an extinct giant ape that dominated the Pleistocene of South China - have always sparked people's curiosity about its diet.
   
The precise diet and habitat of Gigantopithecus remained unknown so far. But, scientists now say that the extinct giant apes lived in closed forest habitats and only ate plants that grew in warm weather.
   
In its research, a team, led by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, prepared and analysed a total of 32 tooth samples. It found that this giant ape and other large mammals solely fed on C3 biomass and lived in forest habitats.
   
The scientists say that Gigantopithecus and the affiliated mega fauna all derived their carbon from solely C3 biomass sources, the 'Chinese Science Bulletin' journal reported.
   
They suggested that Gigantopithecus should live in closed forest habitat and not an open habitat, which is consistent with the associated faunal and floral analyses.
   
"Analysis of stable carbon isotopes is a powerful method for exploring the diet and habitat use of extinct herbivorous mammals, and it has been used in paleoanthropology in analysis on early hominins fossils.
   
"This method is based on the fact that the carbon isotope composition is significantly different between plants that use different photosynthetic pathways and stable carbon isotope composition of enamel is dependent on the diet components throughout the food chain," team leader Zhao LingXia said.

According to the scientists, the diet and habitat of Gigantopithecus blacki was significantly different from that of early hominins in Africa, such as Australopithecus and
Paranthropus, although they all somehow show similar powerful mastication morphology.
   
"Dependence on forest habitat might be an important factor that made Gigantopithecus extinct when the climate and environment changed dramatically during the Pleistocene," Zhao said.

(Agencies)