Patterns of change in the Plio-Pleistocene carnivorans of eastern Africa

Implications for hominin evolution
  • M. E. Lewis
  • L. Werdelin
Part of the Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology Series book series (VERT)

This paper uses changes in origination and extinction rates and species richness of eastern African carnivorans through time to discuss issues related to the evolution of hominin behavior. To address the question of which taxa were most likely to have had competitive interactions with hominins, modern carnivorans were sorted into size classes based on shifts in behavior, ecology, and body mass. Four size classes were created, among which the two largest (21.5–100 kg and >100 kg) include those taxa whose behavior is most relevant to the evolution of hominin dietary behavior. Fossil taxa were then assigned to these size classes. A summary of the temporal range and reconstructed behavior and ecology of fossil members of the two largest size classes is presented. We discuss the relevance of each taxon to reconstructing hominin behavior and suggest that hominins must have evolved not only successful anti-predator strategies, but also successful strategies to avoid kleptoparasitism before carcass-based resources could become an important part of the diet. Although hominins were unlikely to have been top predators upon first entrance into the carnivore guild, effective anti-predator/anti-kleptoparasitism strategies in combination with the eventual evolution of active hunting would have increased the rank of hominin species within the guild. While the appearance of stone tools at 2.6 Ma has no apparent effect upon carnivorans, the appearance of Homo ergaster after 1.8 Ma may have been at least partly responsible for the decrease in the carnivoran origination rate and the increase in the extinction rate at this time. The behavior of H. ergaster, climate change, and concomitant changes in prey species richness may have caused carnivoran species richness to drop precipitously after 1.5 Ma. In this situation, even effective kleptoparasitism by H. ergaster may have been enough to drive local populations of carnivorans that overlapped with hominins in dietary resources to extinction. Possibly as a result, the modern guild, which evolved within the last few hundred thousand years, is composed primarily of generalists. Although the impact of H. sapiens on the carnivoran guild cannot be assessed due to a lack of carnivoran fossils from this time period, one might not consider the modern carnivore guild to be complete until the appearance of our species approximately 200,000 years ago.


Species Richness Stone Tool Large Carnivore Vertebrate Paleontology Early Hominins 
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Copyright information

© Springer 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. E. Lewis
    • 1
  • L. Werdelin
    • 2
  1. 1.Division of Natural and Mathematical Sciences (Biology)The Richard Stockton College of New JerseyPomonaUSA
  2. 2.Department of PalaeozoologySwedish Museum of Natural HistorySweden

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