Article

Oecologia

, Volume 120, Issue 3, pp 364-374

Browsing and grazing in elephants: the isotope record of modern and fossil proboscideans

  • Thure E. CerlingAffiliated withDepartment of Geology and Geophysics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT 84112, USA e-mail: tcerling@bingham.mines.utah.edu, Fax: +1-801-5817065
  • , John M. HarrisAffiliated withGeorge C. Page Museum, 5801 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036, USA
  • , Meave G. LeakeyAffiliated withThe National Museums of Kenya, PO Box 40658, Nairobi, Kenya

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Abstract

The diet of extant elephants (Loxodonta in Africa, Elephas in Asia) is dominated by C3 browse although some elephants have a significant C4 grass component in their diet. This is particularly noteworthy because high-crowned elephantid cheek teeth represent adaptation to an abrasive grazing diet and because isotopic analysis demonstrates that C4 vegetation was the dominant diet for Elephas in Asia from 5 to 1 Ma and for both Loxodonta and Elephas in Africa between 5–1 Ma. Other proboscideans in Africa and southern Asia, except deinotheres, also had a C4-dominated diet from about 7 Ma (when the C4 biomass radiated in tropical and subtropical regions) until their subsequent extinction.

Key words Elephants Diet Stable isotopes Browsing