Abstract

A large sample of the Pikermi and Samos ungulates was examined by microwear analysis using a light stereomicroscope (561 extinct and 809 extant comparative specimens). The results were used to infer the dietary adaptations of individual species and to evaluate the Pikermian Biome ungulate fauna. Many of the bovids have wear consistent with mixed feeding, although a few mesodont taxa apparently enjoyed an exclusive browsing and or grazing diet. The giraffids spanned the entire dietary spectrum of browsing, mixed feeding, and grazing, but most of the three-toed horses (Hippotherium) were hypsodont grazers. The colobine monkey Mesopithecus pentelici displays microwear consistent with a mixed fruit and leaf diet most likely including some hard objects. Similar results were obtained from prior scanning electron microscopy microwear studies at 500 times magnification and from the light microscope method at 35 times magnification for the same species. Results show that diet can differ between species that have very similar gross tooth morphology. Our results also suggest that the Pikermian Biome was most likely a woodland mosaic that provided a diversity of opportunities for species that depended on browsing as well as species that ate grass. The grasses were most likely C3 grasses that would grow in shaded areas of the woodland, glades, and margins of water. The ungulate component of the Pikermi and Samos fauna was more species-rich and more diverse in diet than the ungulates observed in modern African forests, woodlands, or savannas, yet dietarily most similar to the ungulates found in woodland elements of India and to some extent of Africa. It is unlikely that the Pikermi and Samos ungulates inhabited dense forests because we find no evidence for heavy fruit browsing. Conversely, a pure savanna is unlikely because many mixed feeders are present as well as browsers. Extant woodland African species are morphologically and trophically very similar to the African savanna species. Therefore the evolution of grazing and of hypsodont morphology for Africa may have evolved within the Plio-Pleistocene woodlands of Africa. Our results show that major dietary and morphologic ungulate evolution may take place within woodlands rather than as a consequence of species moving into savannas both during the late Miocene of Pikermi and Samos and during the Pleistocene–Recent of Central Africa.

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