Diet of Australopithecus afarensis from the Pliocene Hadar Formation, Ethiopia

Edited by James O'Connell, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, and approved April 30, 2013 (received for review December 31, 2012)
June 3, 2013
110 (26) 10495-10500
Commentary
Stable carbon isotopes and human evolution
Richard G. Klein
Inner Workings
Early human diets
Charles Choi
Research Article
Diet of Theropithecus from 4 to 1 Ma in Kenya
Thure E. Cerling, Kendra L. Chritz [...] Fredrick Kyalo Manthi
Research Article
Isotopic evidence of early hominin diets
Matt Sponheimer, Zeresenay Alemseged [...] Jonathan G. Wynn
Research Article
Stable isotope-based diet reconstructions of Turkana Basin hominins
Thure E. Cerling, Fredrick Kyalo Manthi [...] Bernard A. Wood

Abstract

The enhanced dietary flexibility of early hominins to include consumption of C4/crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM) foods (i.e., foods derived from grasses, sedges, and succulents common in tropical savannas and deserts) likely represents a significant ecological and behavioral distinction from both extant great apes and the last common ancestor that we shared with great apes. Here, we use stable carbon isotopic data from 20 samples of Australopithecus afarensis from Hadar and Dikika, Ethiopia (>3.4–2.9 Ma) to show that this species consumed a diet with significant C4/CAM foods, differing from its putative ancestor Au. anamensis. Furthermore, there is no temporal trend in the amount of C4/CAM food consumption over the age of the samples analyzed, and the amount of C4/CAM food intake was highly variable, even within a single narrow stratigraphic interval. As such, Au. afarensis was a key participant in the C4/CAM dietary expansion by early australopiths of the middle Pliocene. The middle Pliocene expansion of the eastern African australopith diet to include savanna-based foods represents a shift to use of plant food resources that were already abundant in hominin environments for at least 1 million y and sets the stage for dietary differentiation and niche specialization by subsequent hominin taxa.

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Acknowledgments

We thank the Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage, the National Museum of Ethiopia, the Ethiopian Ministry of Culture and Tourism, for permission to undertake this study. Research was funded by National Science Foundation Grant BCS1064030.

Supporting Information

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Information

Published in

Go to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Vol. 110 | No. 26
June 25, 2013
PubMed: 23733965

Classifications

Submission history

Published online: June 3, 2013
Published in issue: June 25, 2013

Keywords

  1. stable isotope
  2. bioapatite
  3. carbon-13
  4. paleodiet
  5. human evolution

Acknowledgments

We thank the Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage, the National Museum of Ethiopia, the Ethiopian Ministry of Culture and Tourism, for permission to undertake this study. Research was funded by National Science Foundation Grant BCS1064030.

Notes

This article is a PNAS Direct Submission.
See Commentary on page 10470.

Authors

Affiliations

Jonathan G. Wynn1 [email protected]
Department of Geology, University of South Florida, Tampa, FL 33620;
Matt Sponheimer
Department of Anthropology, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309;
William H. Kimbel
Institute of Human Origins, School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287;
Zeresenay Alemseged
Department of Anthropology, California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, CA 94118; and
Kaye Reed
Institute of Human Origins, School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287;
Zelalem K. Bedaso
Earth and Planetary Sciences, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD 21218
Jessica N. Wilson
Department of Geology, University of South Florida, Tampa, FL 33620;

Notes

1
To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: [email protected].
Author contributions: J.G.W., M.S., W.H.K., Z.A., K.R., Z.K.B., and J.N.W. designed research, performed research, analyzed data, and wrote the paper.

Competing Interests

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

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    Diet of Australopithecus afarensis from the Pliocene Hadar Formation, Ethiopia
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
    • Vol. 110
    • No. 26
    • pp. 10463-10878

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