Part III - Mukah's Future Today, Mukah lives happily in a zoo; however, both the Sumatran and Bornean orangutan species are endangered and at high...
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Questions -

1 - What is a trade-off? Give one example of a trade-off in great apes. Is the "cognitive trap" in orangutans an example of a trade-off? Explain if so.


2 - Can you think of another trade-off that occurs in a different organism? Why do such trade-offs exist and how does natural selection still lead to adaptations? 


3 - What life history characteristics in orangutans might be contributing to an "evolutionary lag" that may ultimately contribute to their extinction?

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Part III - Mukah's Future Today, Mukah lives happily in a zoo; however, both the Sumatran and Bornean orangutan species are endangered and at high risk of extinction in the wild (Nater et al., 2013; Spehar et al, 2015). Unfortunately, Mukah will probably never reproduce because his isolation from other orangutans during his formative years means he never learned proper mating behaviors and is unlikely to successfully mate with a female. Sadly, his genes will not persist in the shrinking orangutan gene pool. This is particularly unfortunate because most populations of great apes suffer from significant inbreeding (Prado-Martinez et al., 2013). However, he is safe from poaching and not at risk of starvation because he lives in a zoo and does not face threats he might if he lived in his natural habitat. Even if an intelligent and social ape like Mukah were to rejoin the natural population and reproduce, he and his fellow orangutans might still find themselves nearing extinction. A great many factors guided the evolutionary trajectory of the great apes and selected for the qualities we see in them today, but their stubborn commitment to a highly specialized fruit diet provided a base for their evolutionary history. With changes in climate and seasons limiting fruit resources, versatility became a beneficial adaptation. This versatility came in many forms, one being an emphasis on social groupings. Sociality allowed for sharing of fruit patches, feeding opportunities, and habitat among other things. Intelligence also became adaptive, with cognitive skills allowing apes to better solve problems caused by a constantly changing habitat. However, while these traits may once have been a better alternative to simple finding a new food source, they may now be more detrimental than beneficial. Persistence of the frugivorous diet may have ultimately placed great apes in a "cognitive trap." While they have exceptional intelligence that allows them to maintain their needs even with environmental variation, this reliance on a single resource (fruit) is a weakness for survival in disappearing forests. With habitat loss, these apes move closer to the extinction that they have already escaped so many times along a complex evolutionary trajectory. While natural selection has fostered the frugivorous diet, this trait is no longer adaptive and may even become something that is harmful to the species.

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