Remnants of an ancient forest provide ecological context for Early Miocene fossil apes.
The lineage of apes and humans (Hominoidea) evolved and radiated across Afro-Arabia in the early Neogene during a time of global climatic changes and ongoing tectonic processes that formed the East African Rift. These changes probably created highly variable environments and introduced selective pressures influencing the diversification of early apes. However, interpreting the connection between environmental dynamics and adaptive evolution is hampered by difficulties in locating taxa within specific ecological contexts: time-averaged or reworked deposits may not faithfully represent individual palaeohabitats. Here we present multiproxy evidence from Early Miocene deposits on Rusinga Island, Kenya, which directly ties the early ape Proconsul to a widespread, dense, multistoried, closed-canopy tropical seasonal forest set in a warm and relatively wet, local climate. These results underscore the importance of forested environments in the evolution of early apes.