Community ecology of the Middle Miocene primates of La Venta, Colombia: the relationship between ecological diversity, divergence time, and phylogenetic richness

Abstract

It has been suggested that the degree of ecological diversity that characterizes a primate community correlates positively with both its phylogenetic richness and the time since the members of that community diverged (Fleagle and Reed in Primate communities. Cambridge University Press, New York, pp 92–115, 1999). It is therefore questionable whether or not a community with a relatively recent divergence time but high phylogenetic richness would be as ecologically variable as a community with similar phylogenetic richness but a more distant divergence time. To address this question, the ecological diversity of a fossil primate community from La Venta, Colombia, a Middle Miocene platyrrhine community with phylogenetic diversity comparable with extant platyrrhine communities but a relatively short time since divergence, was compared with that of modern Neotropical primate communities. Shearing quotients and molar lengths, which together are reliable indicators of diet, for both fossil and extant species were plotted against each other to describe the dietary “ecospace” occupied by each community. Community diversity was calculated as the area of the minimum convex polygon encompassing all community members. The diversity of the fossil community was then compared with that of extant communities to test whether the fossil community was less diverse than extant communities while taking phylogenetic richness into account. Results indicate that the La Ventan community was not significantly less ecologically diverse than modern communities, supporting the idea that ecological diversification occurred along with phylogenetic diversification early in platyrrhine evolution.

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Acknowledgments

Carolyn Currie Ketchum graciously sent me many of the dental measurements used in this study prior to finishing her thesis, for which I am very much appreciative. Anthony Olejniczak provided statistical advice. I also thank John Fleagle, Christopher Gilbert, Kristina Hogg, Bill Jungers, and Biren Patel for helpful discussion. Pablo Stevenson provided sources for species compositions of extant communities. John Fleagle and two anonymous reviewers provided helpful comments on a previous version of this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Brandon C. Wheeler.

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Wheeler, B.C. Community ecology of the Middle Miocene primates of La Venta, Colombia: the relationship between ecological diversity, divergence time, and phylogenetic richness. Primates 51, 131–138 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10329-009-0181-y

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Keywords

  • New World monkeys
  • Ecospace
  • Primate communities
  • Dietary diversity
  • Primate evolution