The sexual selection of hominin bipedalism

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In this article, I advance a novel hypothesis on the evolution of hominin bipedalism. I begin by arguing extensively for how the transition to bipedalism must have been problematic for hominins during the Neogene. Due to this and the fact that no other primate has made the unusual switch to bipedalism, it seems likely that the selection pressure towards bipedalism was unusually strong. With this in mind, I briefly lay out some of the most promising hypotheses on the evolutionary origin of hominin bipedalism and show how most, if not all, fail in the face of the need for an unusually strong selection pressure. For example, some hypotheses maintain that hominins became bipedal so they could use their hands for carrying infants, food, or other valuable objects. But extant apes are able to carry objects in one of their front limbs (while walking with the other three), and thus it does not seem plausible that our hominin ancestors went through the troublesome transition to bipedalism just so they could carry objects a little more efficiently. After I show that past hypotheses are wanting in the face of this challenge, I argue that there is only one selection pressure powerful enough to instigate a strange and problematic evolutionary adaptation like bipedalism, and that is sexual selection. Specifically, from the fact that bipedal locomotion is an important strategy for intimidating others and ascending the dominance hierarchy in extant apes, I argue that for no particular selective reason bipedal locomotion became a signal for high fitness (much as a large and intricate tail became a signal for high fitness for peahens), and this led to the trait being continuously reinforced in spite of all its deleterious fitness consequences.
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Archival date: 2020-01-10
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