, Volume 120, Issue 3, pp 364–374

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

  • Thure E. Cerling
  • John M. Harris
  • Meave G. Leakey

DOI: 10.1007/s004420050869

Cite this article as:
Cerling, T., Harris, J. & Leakey, M. Oecologia (1999) 120: 364. doi:10.1007/s004420050869


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 

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Thure E. Cerling
    • 1
  • John M. Harris
    • 2
  • Meave G. Leakey
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Geology and Geophysics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT 84112, USA e-mail: tcerling@bingham.mines.utah.edu, Fax: +1-801-5817065US
  2. 2.George C. Page Museum, 5801 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036, USAUS
  3. 3.The National Museums of Kenya, PO Box 40658, Nairobi, KenyaKE

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