Notable: Baboon migration to Arabia

Notable paper: Kopp GH, Roos C, Butynski TM, Wildman DE, Alagaili AN, Groeneveld LF, Zinner D. (2014). Out of Africa, but how and when? The case of hamadryas baboons (Papio hamadryas). Journal of Human Evolution (in press) doi:10.1016/j.jhevol.2014.08.003

Synopsis: Humans are not the only primate to have dispersed from Africa during the Pleistocene. Savanna baboons, widespread across eastern Africa, established a population on the Arabian peninsula during the last 150,000 years. Gisela Kopp and colleagues show that the diversity of baboons increases from north to south along the Red Sea coast in Arabia, and suggest that the baboons may have crossed the Strait of Bab-el-Mandab during the low water period of the Late Pleistocene, more than 70,000 years ago.

Important because: Archaeologists and geneticists have recurrently suggested that humans may have made a Bab-el-Mandab crossing via a “southern route”, instead of coming across land via the Sinai peninsula. The interest in a southern route for humans has most recently been spurred by archaeological similarties between Arabian and African Middle Paleolithic-era assemblages. Those similarities date to the same general time period that baboons were establishing this Arabian population.

But… The genetic data here don’t exclude an overland or mixed source for the Arabian baboon population. And of course, the dispersal abilities of baboons are probably not the same as humans, so the baboon analogy may not be relevant to us. Still, along with other African fauna like cheetahs and striped hyenas, the baboons help to show that Arabia was repeatedly colonized by African forms.