Mammalian bipedalism has long been thought to have arisen in response to arid and open environments. Here, we tested whether bipedalism coevolved with environmental changes using molecular and paleontological data from the rodent superfamily Dipodoidea and statistical methods for reconstructing ancestral characteristics and past climates. Our results show that the post-Late Miocene aridification exerted selective pressures on tooth shape, but not on leg length of bipedal jerboas. Cheek tooth crown height has increased since the Late Miocene, but the hind limb/head-body length ratios remained stable and high despite the environmental change from humid and forested to arid and open conditions, rather than increasing from low to high as predicted by the arid-bipedalism hypothesis. The decoupling of locomotor and dental character evolution indicates that bipedalism evolved under selective pressure different from that of dental hypsodonty in jerboas. We reconstructed the habitats of early jerboas using floral and faunal data, and the results show that the environments in which bipedalism evolved were forested. Our results suggest that bipedalism evolved as an adaptation to humid woodlands or forests for vertical jumping. Running at high speeds is likely a by-product of selection for jumping, which became advantageous in open environments later on.
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