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J Hum Evol. 2001 Mar;40(3):203-29.

Diets of fossil primates from the Fayum Depression of Egypt: a quantitative analysis of molar shearing.

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  • 1Biological Anthropology and Anatomy, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC 27710, USA.


Over the last 90 years, Eocene and Oligocene aged sediments in the Fayum Depression of Egypt have yielded at least 17 genera of fossil primates. However, of this diverse sample the diets of only four early Oligocene anthropoid genera have been previously studied using quantitative methods. Here we present dietary assessments for 11 additional Fayum primate genera based on the analysis of body mass and molar shearing crest development. These studies reveal that all late Eocene Fayum anthropoids were probably frugivorous despite marked subfamilial differences in dental morphology. By contrast, late Eocene Fayum prosimians demonstrated remarkable dietary diversity, including specialized insectivory (Anchomomys), generalized frugivory (Plesiopithecus), frugivory+insectivory (Wadilemur), and strict folivory (Aframonius). This evidence that sympatric prosimians and early anthropoids jointly occupied frugivorous niches during the late Eocene reinforces the hypothesis that changes in diet did not form the primary ecological impetus for the origin of the Anthropoidea. Early Oligocene Fayum localities differ from late Eocene Fayum localities in lacking large-bodied frugivorous and folivorous prosimians, and may document the first appearance of primate communities with trophic structures like those of extant primate communities in continental Africa. A similar change in primate community structure during the Eocene-Oligocene transition is not evident in the Asian fossil record. Putative large anthropoids from the Eocene of Asia, such as Amphipithecus mogaungensis, Pondaungia cotteri, and Siamopithecus eocaenus, share with early Oligocene Fayum anthropoids derived features of molar anatomy related to an emphasis on crushing and grinding during mastication. However, these dental specializations are not seen in late Eocene Fayum anthropoids that are broadly ancestral to the later-occurring anthropoids of the Fayum's upper sequence. This lack of resemblance to undisputed Eocene African anthropoids suggests that the "progressive" anthropoid-like dental features of some large-bodied Eocene Asian primates may be the result of dietary convergence rather than close phyletic affinity with the Anthropoidea.

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