Potential hominin plant foods in northern Tanzania: semi-arid savannas versus savanna chimpanzee sites

Department of Human Evolution, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Deutscher Platz 6, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany.
Journal of Human Evolution (Impact Factor: 3.73). 10/2009; 57(4):365-78. DOI: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2009.06.007
Source: PubMed


Savanna chimpanzees are useful as referential models for early hominins, and here potential differences between chimpanzee and early hominin ecology is the focus. Whereas chimpanzees inhabit only a handful of modern African savannas, there is evidence that early hominins occupied relatively more open and arid savannas than those in which chimpanzees live. In order to help expand potential models of early hominin palaeoecology beyond savanna chimpanzee-like scenarios, and to provide a basis for future modeling and testing of actual hominin diets, this study compares the types of plant foods available in modern semi-arid savannas of northern Tanzania to plant foods at savanna chimpanzee sites. The semi-arid savannas are not occupied by modern chimpanzees, but are potentially similar to environments occupied by some early hominins. Compared to savanna chimpanzee habitats, the northern Tanzania semi-arid savanna has a lower density and fewer species of trees that produce fleshy fruits. Additionally, the most abundant potential hominin plant foods are seasonally available Acacia seeds/pods and flowers, grass seeds, and the underground parts of marsh plants, as evidenced by vegetation surveys and by studies of the diets of baboons that forage in similar areas. The information from this study should be useful for framing hypotheses about hominin diets for sites with palaeoenvironmental contexts similar to those of the northern Tanzania semi-arid savannas and for contextualising tests of actual hominin diets (e.g., those based on dental microwear or isotopes).

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Available from: Sandi Rae Copeland
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    • "Furthermore, such work can assist in the identification of habitat types utilized for food resources within their home range, which may then assist conservation efforts. Moreover , increased knowledge of the omnivorous diet of our closest living relatives (Pan troglodytes and P. paniscus), who range and forage in different habitats may provide a greater understanding of hominin diet and its evolution from our last common ancestor (when used as referential models to determine both similarities and differences in plant availability and food‐intake [Copeland, 2009; Hohmann, 2009]). Direct observation of feeding by primates reveals crucial aspects of their diet. "
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    ABSTRACT: Most primate populations remain unobservable; therefore, researchers depend on the analyses of indirect evidence encountered at a study-site in order to understand their behavioral ecology. Diet can be determined through the analyses of scats or feeding remains encountered on-site. This allows aspects of their dietary repertoire to be established, which has implications both for conservation efforts (by locating food resources), and for understanding the evolution of hominin diet (if used as referential models). Macroscopic inspection of fecal samples is a common method applied to ascertain a primate population's diet. However, new approaches are required to identify food-items unrecognizable at this level. We applied a dry ash extraction method to fecal samples (N = 50) collected from 10 adult chimpanzees in Kanyawara, Kibale National Park, Uganda and also to plant parts (N = 66) from 34 species known to be included in the diet of this community of apes. We recovered phytoliths in 26 of the 34 plant species. Fifteen phytolith morphotypes were only detected in 14 plant species (termed "distinct" phytoliths). We used these distinct phytoliths to identify plant foods (i.e., that they were associated with) in fecal samples. We then validated findings by checking if the 10 chimpanzees had eaten parts of these plants ∼24 hr prior to fecal sample collection; six plant species associated with five distinct phytoliths had been eaten. Finally, we compared plant foods identified in fecal samples from phytolith analyses with plants that had been identified from macroscopic inspection of the same fecal samples. Findings from phytolith analyses corroborate with those from macroscopic inspection by expanding the total number of plant species identified per fecal sample (i.e., we identified certain plant parts that remained unrecognizable at macroscopic level). This study highlights the potential of phytolith analyses of feces to increase our knowledgebase of the dietary repertoire of primate populations. Am. J. Primatol. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
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    • "preferred soft fruit and fall back on terrestrial herbs, leaves, pith, and even termites when favored foods are not available (Yamagiwa et al., 1996; Doran et al., 2002; Cipolletta et al., 2007; Masi, 2008; Doran-Sheehy et al., 2009). The common chimpanzee, P. troglodytes, has been studied at several heavily forested sites (Hladik, 1977b; Wrangham, 1977; Nishida and Uehara, 1983; Goodall, 1986; Tutin et al., 1991, 1997; Wrangham et al., 1991; Newton-Fisher, 1999; Hunt and McGrew, 2002; Tweheyo et al., 2004; Morgan and Sanz, 2006) and also at some more open localities (Suzuki, 1969; McGrew et al., 1981, 1988; Moore, 1992, 1994; Hunt and McGrew, 2002; Pruetz, 2006; Copeland, 2009). Across this range of habitats , however, chimps prefer soft fruits as a mainstay in their diet, even increasing foraging ranges during times of fruit scarcity to pursue them (Wrangham et al., 1998). "
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    ABSTRACT: Dental microwear has long been used as evidence concerning the diets of extinct species. Here, we present a comparative baseline series of dental microwear textures for a sample of 21 anthropoid primate species displaying interspecific and intraspecific dietary variability. Four dental microwear texture variables (complexity, anisotropy, textural fill volume, and heterogeneity) were computed based on scale-sensitive fractal analysis and high-resolution three-dimensional renderings of microwear surfaces collected using a white-light confocal profiler. The purpose of this analysis was to assess the extent to which these variables reflect variation in diet. Significant contrasts between species with diets known to include foods with differing material properties are clearly evident for all four microwear texture variables. In particular, species that consume more tough foods, such as leaves, tended to have high levels of anisotropy and low texture complexity. The converse was true for species including hard and brittle items in their diets either as staples or as fallback foods. These results reaffirm the utility of dental microwear texture analysis as an important tool in making dietary inferences based on fossil primate samples.
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