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Coprolites: Taphonomic and Paleoecological Implications

  • Terry HarrisonEmail author
Chapter
Part of the Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology Series book series (VERT)

Abstract

Recent paleontological collections at Laetoli and Kakesio have yielded a number of coprolites of medium- to large-sized carnivores, and a rare collection of ruminant coprolites. The carnivore coprolites appear to belong to a diversity of taxa, including canids, felids and hyaenids. Their occurrence confirms other lines of evidence that carnivores played an important role in the accumulation and composition of the fossil remains at Laetoli. Ruminant coprolites are extremely rare in the African fossil record, and are the result of unusual preservational conditions. The dung can be attributed to medium- to large-sized ruminants, including Giraffa stillei and at least two species of bovids. The consistency of most of the ruminant dung and the occasional presence of seeds indicates that deposition occurred primarily during or soon after the rainy season, a finding consistent with the sedimentological evidence. The presence of seeds and of coarse particles of herbaceous and woody plant material in several coprolites supports stable isotope and mesowear studies indicating that the ruminants at Laetoli were predominantly mixed feeders.

Keywords

Bovid Carnivore Dung pellet Diet Ecology Giraffa Scat 

Notes

Acknowledgements

The author is grateful to the Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology and the Unit of Antiquities in Dar es Salaam for permission to conduct research in Tanzania. Special thanks to Paul Msemwa (Director) and Amandus Kweka, as well as to all of the staff at the National Museum of Tanzania in Dar es Salaam, for their support and assistance. The Government of Kenya and the National Museums of Kenya are thanked for permission to study the collections in Nairobi. Thanks go to Emma Mbua, Mary Muungu, Meave Leakey (Kenya National Museum) for access to specimens in their care. For their advice, discussion, and help I gratefully acknowledge the following individuals: P. Andrews, P. Ditchfield, A. Kweka, Y. Fernandez-Jalvo, C.P. Msuya, and D. Su. Research at Laetoli was supported by grants from the National Geographic Society, the Leakey Foundation, and NSF (Grants BCS-9903434 and BCS-0309513).

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for the Study of Human Origins, Department of AnthropologyNew York UniversityNew YorkUSA

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