, Volume 120, Issue 3, pp 364-374

First online:

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:, 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

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


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