Are humans really that unique?
The human birth canal is about the same size, if not a bit smaller, than the baby’s head, leading to a difficult and dangerous birth in our species. Other great apes, on the other hand, have a spacious birth canal in respect to their babies’ size. As we are the only bipedal ape, the obvious conclusion has been that our pelvis changed in response to our adaptation to bipedalism, leading to a tight fit with the baby’s head, further exacerbated by our large brain. If you expand your view to other primates, however, it appears that we are not that unique: gibbons, macaques, squirrel monkeys and other species have a similar tight fit during childbirth. My collaborator Todd Rae and I, together with Leverhulme-funded postdoctoral researcher Nicole Torres-Tamayo, are developing new 3D measurements of the birth canal that allow direct comparison across primate species, to investigate in what ways we are unique and in what ways we are not.
Locomotion, posture and obstetrics
Primates are a particularly diverse group of mammals, with very large differences in locomotion, diet and body size. As part of the same wide-ranging project, we are investigating how variation in locomotion, habitual posture, adult and baby size and sexual dimorphism have affected the shape and size of the birth canal across primates. By taking a wide comparative approach, we will test alternative hypotheses for why humans (and some other primate species) have evolved a tight birth canal.