Fossilized Teeth Reveal Dietary Shifts in Ancient Herbivores and Hominins

Two Key Specimens: Paranthropus Aethiopicus and P. Boisei

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Casts of 2 essential specimens: Paranthropus aethiopicus (left) and P. boisei (right). Credit: Zeresenay Alemseged

A brand-new research study released today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences files dietary shifts in herbivores that lived in between 1-3 million years back in Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valley. The research study group, led by Enquye Negash, a postdoctoral scientist in the George Washington University Center for the Advanced Study of Human Paleobiology, taken a look at steady isotopes in the fossilized teeth of herbivores such as antelopes and pigs and discovered a shift far from C3-derived foods, quality of woody plant life, to C4-derived foods, agent of turfs and sedges. The shift occurred at 2 unique period, roughly 2.7 million years back and 2 million years back, when the environment of the Lower Omo Valley was transitioning to open savanna.

The research study, “Dietary trends in herbivores from the Shungura Formation, southwestern Ethiopia,” functioned as a relative structure to an associated hominin diet plan research study, likewise released today, of which Negash was a co-author. The involved research study, “Isotopic evidence for the timing of the dietary shift towards C4 foods in eastern African Paranthropus,” taken a look at carbon isotope information from the fossilized tooth enamel of Paranthropus boisei, a nonancestral hominin relative. Led by Jonathan Wynn, now a program director in the National Science Foundation’s department of Earth sciences, the research study group behind that paper discovered an extensive shift towards the usage of C4-derived foods roughly 2.37 million years back, which preceded a morphological shift of P. boisei’s skull and jaw. Given the direct proof supplied by the plentiful, well-dated fossilized teeth and their chemical structure, the brand-new findings recommend behavioral dietary modifications can precede obvious morphological adjustments to brand-new foods.

From the Researchers:

“Major dietary shifts that are observed in our study reflect the response of the herbivores to major ecological and environmental changes during this time. This allowed us to better understand the environmental context of similar dietary changes in hominins.”

– Enquye Negash

“Although we’re interested in how the diets of our immediate and distant ancestors evolved to produce our modern human diet, it is very important to consider these hominins as a small part of an ecosystem that included other plant and animal species that responded to changing environments in an interconnected way.”
– Jonathan Wynn


“Dietary trends in herbivores from the Shungura Formation, southwestern Ethiopia” by Enquye W. Negash, Zeresenay Alemseged, René Bobe, Frederick Grine, Matt Sponheimer and Jonathan G. Wynn, 24 August 2020, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2006982117

“Isotopic proof for the timing of the dietary shift towards C4 foods in eastern African Paranthropus” by Jonathan G. Wynn, Zeresenay Alemseged, René Bobe, Frederick E. Grine, Enquye W. Negash and Matt Sponheimer, 24 August 2020, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2006221117

This work was supported by National Science Foundation (NSF) award 1252157. Wynn was likewise supported by an NSF Independent Research and Development (IR/D) program.

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