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PLoS One. 2019 Mar 6;14(3):e0202723. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0202723. eCollection 2019.

Modern botanical analogue of endangered Yak (Bos mutus) dung from India: Plausible linkage with extant and extinct megaherbivores.

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Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeosciences, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India.
Bureau of Land Management, South, Salt Lake City, Utah, United States of America.


The study reports the micro- and macrobotanical remains on wild Yak dung, providing evidence for understanding the diet, habitat, and ecology of extant and extinct megaherbivores. Grasses are the primary diet of the yak as indicated by the abundance of grass pollen and phytoliths. Other associated non-arboreal and arboreal taxa namely, Cyperacaeae, Rosaceae, Chenopodiaceae, Artemisia, Prunus, and Rhododendron are also important dietary plants for their living. The observation of plant macrobotanical remains especially the vegetative part and seeds of the grasses and Cyperaceae is also in agreement with the palynodata. The documented micro- and macrobotanical data are indicative of both Alpine meadow and steppe vegetation under cold and dry climate which exactly reflected the current vegetation composition and climate in the region. The recovery of Botryococcus, Arcella, and diatom was observed in trace amounts in the palynoassemblage which would have been incorporated in the dung through the ingestion of water and are indicative of the presence of perennial water system in the region. Energy dispersive spectroscopy analysis marked that the element contained in dung samples has variation in relation to the summer and winter, which might be due to the availability of the food plants and vegetation. This generated multiproxy data serves as a strong supplementary data for modern pollen and vegetation relationships based on surface soil samples in the region. The recorded multiproxy data could also be useful to interpret the relationship between the coprolites of herbivorous fauna and the palaeodietary, the palaeoecology in the region, and to correlate with other mega herbivores in a global context.

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