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Recently I've been picking back up my worldbuilding for a DND campaign I've been lightly working on for a few years. One of the ideas I have are bovine dwarves, mostly based off of yaks or muskoxen. Mostly because... Y'know, long hair, lives in mountainous climates, and because I have a trend in basing my dnd races off of animals (feline elves, marsupial goblins, porcine orcs, you can smell what I'm stepping in).

Would it be possible for a bovine that lives in an alpine forest environment (that later moves to the mountains) to undergo similar evolution that humans went through? Becoming bipedal, tool usage, speech, etc.

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    $\begingroup$ The first thing that we should remember is that something that looked like a pig eventually turned into blue whales. So anything evolution is possible, supposing that the environment can select for the desired changes (and of course that the end state is biologically plausible). That said, you should also remember that at the end of such an evolutionary path, it's perhaps true that the new organism will look little like its ancestors. You shouldn't expect bovine traits to be readily apparent for someone following your story if you're striving for strict, plausible evolutionary basis. $\endgroup$
    – John O
    Commented Apr 13, 2021 at 16:18

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The very first mammals are believed to have been less than a handful of rodent species. Those proto-rats eventually evolved into platypuses, monkeys and even whales. Given enough time and pressure a species can evolve in any direction.

For bipedalism, a hooved creature could first evolve to be leaner because it needs agility rather than bulk, and then it could evolve into bipedalism because it allows it to reach higher leaves. A longer neck like that of giraffes would also do, but mutations are random and you go with whatever you get. By the way, hooved creatures standing on two legs already happens nowadays. Some species of deer in Africa do that:

A deer standing on two legs

They don't walk like that, they just stand like that while grabbing leaves. But it's a step towards bipedalism.

As for intelligence and tool usage, they will evolve if they help the creature survive. Could take millions of years though. We humans had an advantage when it comes to tool usage because of opposable thumbs, which our ancestors had due to living on trees. Your herbivores could develop opposable hooves/digits in order to grab leaves, like some herbivore, non-climbing dinosaurs once did.

Intelligence is the trickiest part. Even we humans are still figuring that part out. But again, it's a matter of survival. If the creatures learn how to make spears and it leads them into surviving better, then bigger brains will stay. Going bipedal makes it harder to be smart though.

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    $\begingroup$ Most iguanodons were quite small ranging from 1-2 meters tall. The smaller species tended to have more hand-like forelimbs while the larger species appeared to have more foot like forelimbs suggesting the likelihood that the opposable digits evolved in the smaller variety, and were vestigial in the larger species. Opposable hands and climbing typically evolve as a way for smaller animals to escape predators; so, it is very possible that this feature emerged for climbing in smaller iguanodons like Zalmoxes $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented Apr 14, 2021 at 13:55
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    $\begingroup$ en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhabdodontidae <- this article discusses Ősi et al's theory that it is more likely that the smaller iguanodons came first, and that larger ones evolved there-after. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented Apr 14, 2021 at 14:02
  • $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki I love paleontology and you've led me to some material I'll enjoy reading :) $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 14, 2021 at 14:05
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Opposable hands designs have evolved separately in rodents, primates, dinosaurs, and reptiles and in all cases, they seem to have evolved out of a need to climb. While hooves seem like a bad starting place for designing nimble grasping appendages, the mountain goats of today could easily be a transitional species moving in that direction.

Mountain goats are members of the bovidae family making them very closely related to bovines. One of their adaptations that help them climb so well is that their hooves have pliable, rubbery pads and their toes can spread to improve balance and grip. If Mountain Goats could evolve these features; so, could a true bovine living in the same niche like a Mountain Anoa.

In a few thousand more generations mountain goat hooves will likely evolve to be better and better at grasping things, since those who do not grasp so well are more prone to be selected against. In this respect it is very much possible for them to evolve their own version of hands, and appendages that can rotate out more for better hugging trees and cliff faces.

When you consider that the average bovine brain is about the same size or bigger than that of a chimpanzee, then it also seem reasonable that once you give them hands, intelligence and tool usage would be a relatively easy next step.

As forelimbs become more and more important for things other than walking, bipedalism will become evolutionarily favored.

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