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J Hum Evol. 2003 Apr;44(4):451-78.

An integrated approach to taphonomy and faunal change in the Shungura formation (Ethiopia) and its implication for hominid evolution.

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Institute of Human Origins, Arizona State University, P.O. Box 874101,Tempe, AZ 85287-4101, USA.


Environmental and faunal changes through time have been recorded for many African Plio-Pleistocene sites. Fossil evidence suggests that there is a continuous, if not uniform, transformation of the fauna and flora from the Pliocene through the end of Pleistocene. However, discerning major biotic turnovers and linking them to global and regional climatic changes have been complicated by many factors, notably taphonomy and discontinuity of the fossil evidence, notwithstanding the considerable work of some researchers (e.g., Vrba, E.S., 1988. Late Pliocene climatic events and hominid evolution, in: Grine, F. (Ed.), Evolutionary History of the "Robust" Australopithecines. De Gruyter, New York, pp. 405-426, Vrba, E.S., 1995. The fossil record of African (Mammalia, Bovidae) in relation to human evolution and paleoclimate, in: Vrba, E.S., Denton, G.H., Partridge, T.C., Burkle, L.H. (Eds.), Paleoclimate and Evolution, with Emphasis on Human Origins. Yale University Press, New Haven, pp. 385-424). A sample of over 22,000 fossils collected by the French Omo Expedition, from the Shungura Formation of Ethiopia, was analyzed using an integrated approach to investigate taphonomic and faunal change patterns. The following results are obtained: (1) Univariate and multivariate studies support continuous faunal change from Member A through Member G of the Shungura sequence; (2) Correspondence analysis (CA) on extant bovids in African game parks shows that bovid tribes and genera are generally characterized by habitat specificity; (3) Taphonomic studies demonstrate that the relative abundance of different skeletal elements varies according to depositional environment; (4) CA on 73 localities of the Shungura Formation and 19 mammalian taxa points to a major faunal change around the base of Member G dated to ca. 2.3 Ma. This transformation is characterized by a change to open and edaphic grassland as a dominant type of environment; (5) This major faunal change correlates in time with the appearance of A. boisei. It is tentatively suggested that this major biome change is associated with an anagenetic speciation from A. aethiopicus to A. boisei.

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