The dietary behaviour of early pleistocene bovids from Cooper's Cave and Swartkrans, South Africa

Steininger, Christine Marrie
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There is ongoing speculation about how an increasingly arid environment contributed to the extinction of Paranthropus robustus, given that a mosaic landscape with a major part of the area consisting of predominantly open grassland environment accompanied by an escalating cooler drier climate remains the persistent palaeoecological reconstruction for this species. It has been suggested that P. robustus, a dietary specialist, was not able to adapt to an increasingly xeric habitat. This notion has been challenged by recent multi-disciplinary research on P. robustus remains, including stable light isotope and dental microwear analyses, which portray a more complex diet. Paranthropus robustus is present in a number of key fossil assemblages spanning the period ca. 1.8 to 1.0 Ma. Analysis of the stable carbon isotope composition of bioapatites and dental microwear texture analysis of different bovid taxa, associated with P. robustus remains from five discrete deposits, were used to reconstruct dietary behaviour and by inference availability of local resources. The overall pattern emerging from the bovid data indicates a more mixed and varied diet than previously thought, suggesting a heterogeneous environment, and hence a less static ecological profile for Paranthropus. The significant occurrence of mixed diets and relatively few obligate C4 grazers suggest that although C4 grasses were available in a mosaic environment, a C4-dominated ecosystem was not present. Swartkrans Member 2 (ca. 1.6 Ma) contains substantially more C3 feeders than other P. robustus deposits, signifying a vegetation community structure that was more C3-dominated than the other deposits. There is an apparent indication of shifting vegetation structure between P. robustus deposits. Thus, despite its derived craniodental morphology, P. robustus seems to have thrived through a range of climatic and ecological shifts by selecting from a variety of available foods present on the landscape.
Ph.D., Faculty of Science, University of the Witwatersrand, 2011
Paleoecology, Paleoecology, pleistocene, Sediments (geology), Geology, stratigraphic, pleistocene