Institut für Ökologie, Evolution und Diversität
Impact of carnivory on human development and evolution revealed by a new unifying model of weaning in mammals
- Our large brain, long life span and high fertility are key elements of human evolutionary success and are often thought to have evolved in interplay with tool use, carnivory and hunting. However, the specific impact of carnivory on human evolution, life history and development remains controversial. Here we show in quantitative terms that dietary profile is a key factor influencing time to weaning across a wide taxonomic range of mammals, including humans. In a model encompassing a total of 67 species and genera from 12 mammalian orders, adult brain mass and two dichotomous variables reflecting species differences regarding limb biomechanics and dietary profile, accounted for 75.5%, 10.3% and 3.4% of variance in time to weaning, respectively, together capturing 89.2% of total variance. Crucially, carnivory predicted the time point of early weaning in humans with remarkable precision, yielding a prediction error of less than 5% with a sample of forty-six human natural fertility societies as reference. Hence, carnivory appears to provide both a necessary and sufficient explanation as to why humans wean so much earlier than the great apes. While early weaning is regarded as essentially differentiating the genus Homo from the great apes, its timing seems to be determined by the same limited set of factors in humans as in mammals in general, despite some 90 million years of evolution. Our analysis emphasizes the high degree of similarity of relative time scales in mammalian development and life history across 67 genera from 12 mammalian orders and shows that the impact of carnivory on time to weaning in humans is quantifiable, and critical. Since early weaning yields shorter interbirth intervals and higher rates of reproduction, with profound effects on population dynamics, our findings highlight the emergence of carnivory as a process fundamentally determining human evolution.
Chemical composition of modern and fossil Hippopotamid teeth and implications for paleoenvironmental reconstructions and enamel formation - Part 2: Alkaline earth elements as tracers of watershed hydrochemistry and provenance
Thomas C. Brachert
Dieter F. Mertz
- For reconstructing environmental change in terrestrial realms the geochemistry of fossil bioapatite in bones and teeth is among the most promising applications. This study demonstrates that alkaline earth elements in enamel of Hippopotamids, in particular Ba and Sr are tracers for water provenance and hydrochemistry. The studied specimens are molar teeth from Hippopotamids found in modern and fossil lacustrine settings of the Western Branch of the East African Rift system (Lake Kikorongo, Lake Albert, and Lake Malawi) and from modern fluvial environments of the Nile River.
Concentrations in enamel vary by ca. two orders of magnitude for Ba (120–9336 μg g−1) as well as for Sr (9–2150 μg g−1). Concentration variations in enamel are partly induced during post-mortem alteration and during amelogenesis, but the major contribution originates from the variable water chemistry in the habitats of the Hippopotamids which is dominated by the lithologies and weathering processes in the watershed areas. Amelogenesis causes a distinct distribution of Ba and Sr in modern and fossil enamel, in that element concentrations increase along profiles from the outer rim towards the enamel-dentin junction by a factor of 1.3–1.5. These elements are well correlated with MgO and Na2O in single specimens, thus suggesting that their distribution is determined by a common, single process. Presuming that the shape of the tooth is established at the end of the secretion process and apatite composition is in equilibrium with the enamel fluid, the maturation process can be modeled by closed system Rayleigh crystallization.
Enamel from many Hippopotamid specimens has Sr/Ca and Ba/Ca which are typical for herbivores, but the compositions extend well into the levels of plants and carnivores. Within enamel from single specimens these element ratios covary and provide a specific fingerprint of the Hippopotamid habitat. All specimens together, however, define subparallel trends with different Ba/Sr ranging from 0.1 to 3. This ratio varies on spatial and temporal scales and traces provenance signals as well as the fractionation of the elements in the hydrological cycle. Thus, Sr concentrations and Ba/Sr in enamel differentiate between habitats having basaltic or Archean crustal rocks as the ultimate sources of Sr and Ba. The provenance signal is modulated by climate change. In Miocene to Pleistocene enamel from the Lake Albert region, Ba/Sr decreases systematically with time from about 2 to 0.5. This trend can be correlated with changes in climate from humid to arid in vegetation from C3 to C4 biomass as well as with increasing evaporation of the lake water. The most plausible explanation is that with time, Ba mobility decreased relative to that of Sr. This can arise if preferential adsorption of Ba to clay and Fe-oxide-hydroxide is related to increasing aridification. Additionally, weathering solutions and lake water can become increasingly alkaline and barite becomes stable. In this case, Ba will be preferentially deposited on the watershed of Lake Albert and rivers with low Ba/Sr will feed the habitats of the Hippopotamids.
A new golden frog species of the genus Diasporus (Amphibia, Eleutherodactylidae) from the Cordillera Central, western Panama
- We describe the frog species Diasporus citrinobapheussp. n. from the Cordillera Central of western Panama. The new species differs from all other species in its genus in coloration, disk cover and disk pad shape, skin texture, advertisement call, and size. It is most similar to Diasporus tigrillo, from which it differs in dorsal skin texture, relative tibia length, number of vomerine teeth, ventral coloration, dorsal markings, and relative tympanum size, and to Diasporus gularis, from which it can be distinguished by the lack of membranes between the toes, adult size, posterior thigh coloration, and position of the choanae. We provide data on morpho- logy, vocalization, and distribution of the new species, as well as brief information on its natural history.
Palystes kreutzmanni sp. n. – a new huntsman spider species from fynbos vegetation in Western Cape Province, South Africa (Araneae, Sparassidae, Palystinae)
- Palystes kreutzmanni sp. n. is described from habitats close to Kleinmond, in the Western Cape Province, South Africa. Spiders of this new species live in the typical fynbos vegetation of the Western Cape region. They build retreats between apical leaves of Leucadendron bushes. The systematic position of Palystes kreutzmanni sp. n. is discussed. Male and female show characters of different species groups, especially the female copulatory organ seems to be unique within the genus Palystes L. Koch, 1875.
A new species of Thecadactylus from Sint Maarten, Lesser Antilles (Reptilia, Squamata, Gekkonidae)
- We describe a new species of Thecadactylusfrom the Caribbean island of Sint Maarten. The new species differs from all other species in the genus by having a distinct dorsal pattern of numerous irregular but sharply deliminated black spots and blotches on an otherwise almost patternless background.
The antiquity of the Rhine River: stratigraphic coverage of the Dinotheriensande (Eppelsheim Formation) of the Mainz Basin (Germany)
Mammalian fossils from the Eppelsheim Formation (Dinotheriensande) have been a benchmark for Neogene vertebrate palaeontology since 200 years. Worldwide famous sites like Eppelsheim serve as key localities for biochronologic, palaeobiologic, environmental, and mammal community studies. So far the formation is considered to be of early Late Miocene age (~9.5 Ma, Vallesian), representing the oldest sediments of the Rhine River. The stratigraphic unity of the formation and of its fossil content was disputed at times, but persists unresolved.
Here we investigate a new fossil sample from Sprendlingen, composed by over 300 mammalian specimens and silicified wood. The mammals comprise entirely Middle Miocene species, like cervids Dicrocerus elegans, Paradicrocerus elegantulus, and deinotheres Deinotherium bavaricum and D. levius. A stratigraphic evaluation of Miocene Central European deer and deinothere species proof the stratigraphic inhomogenity of the sample, and suggest late Middle Miocene (~12.5 Ma) reworking of early Middle Miocene (~15 Ma) sediments. This results agree with taxonomic and palaeoclimatic analysis of plant fossils from above and within the mammalian assemblage. Based on the new fossil sample and published data three biochronologic levels within the Dinotheriensand fauna can be differentiated, corresponding to early Middle Miocene (late Orleanian to early Astaracian), late Middle Miocene (late Astaracian), and early Late Miocene (Vallesian) ages.
This study documents complex faunal mixing of classical Dinotheriensand fauna, covering at least six million years, during a time of low subsidence in the Mainz Basin and shifts back the origination of the Rhine River by some five million years. Our results have severe implications for biostratigraphy and palaeobiology of the Middle to Late Miocene. They suggest that turnover events may be obliterated and challenge the proposed ‘supersaturated’ biodiversity, caused by Middle Miocene superstites, of Vallesian ecosystems in Central Europe.
Dental tissue proportions in fossil orangutans from mainland Asia and Indonesia
Tanya M. Smith
Kim Thuy Nguyen
John de Vos
John P. Zermeno
- Orangutans (Pongo) are the only great ape genus with a substantial Pleistocene and Holocene fossil record, demonstrating a much larger geographic range than extant populations. In addition to having an extensive fossil record, Pongo shows several convergent morphological similarities with Homo, including a trend of dental reduction during the past million years. While studies have documented variation in dental tissue proportions among species of Homo, little is known about variation in enamel thickness within fossil orangutans. Here we assess dental tissue proportions, including conventional enamel thickness indices, in a large sample of fossil orangutan postcanine teeth from mainland Asia and Indonesia. We find few differences between regions, except for significantly lower average enamel thickness (AET) values in Indonesian mandibular first molars. Differences between fossil and extant orangutans are more marked, with fossil Pongo showing higher AET in most postcanine teeth. These differences are significant for maxillary and mandibular first molars. Fossil orangutans show higher AET than extant Pongo due to greater enamel cap areas, which exceed increases in enamel-dentine junction length (due to geometric scaling of areas and lengths for the AET index calculation). We also find greater dentine areas in fossil orangutans, but relative enamel thickness indices do not differ between fossil and extant taxa. When changes in dental tissue proportions between fossil and extant orangutans are compared with fossil and recent Homo sapiens, Pongo appears to show isometric reduction in enamel and dentine, while crown reduction in H. sapiens appears to be due to preferential loss of dentine. Disparate selective pressures or developmental constraints may underlie these patterns. Finally, the finding of moderately thick molar enamel in fossil orangutans may represent an additional convergent dental similarity with Homo erectus, complicating attempts to distinguish these taxa in mixed Asian faunas.
Diversity and Distribution Patterns in High Southern Latitude Sponges
Rachel V. Downey
Huw J. Griffiths
- Sponges play a key role in Antarctic marine benthic community structure and dynamics and are often a dominant component of many Southern Ocean benthic communities. Understanding the drivers of sponge distribution in Antarctica enables us to understand many of general benthic biodiversity patterns in the region. The sponges of the Antarctic and neighbouring oceanographic regions were assessed for species richness and biogeographic patterns using over 8,800 distribution records. Species-rich regions include the Antarctic Peninsula, South Shetland Islands, South Georgia, Eastern Weddell Sea, Kerguelen Plateau, Falkland Islands and north New Zealand. Sampling intensity varied greatly within the study area, with sampling hotspots found at the Antarctic Peninsula, South Georgia, north New Zealand and Tierra del Fuego, with limited sampling in the Bellingshausen and Amundsen seas in the Southern Ocean. In contrast to previous studies we found that eurybathy and circumpolar distributions are important but not dominant characteristics in Antarctic sponges. Overall Antarctic sponge species endemism is ~43%, with a higher level for the class Hexactinellida (68%). Endemism levels are lower than previous estimates, but still indicate the importance of the Polar Front in isolating the Southern Ocean fauna. Nineteen distinct sponge distribution patterns were found, ranging from regional endemics to cosmopolitan species. A single, distinct Antarctic demosponge fauna is found to encompass all areas within the Polar Front, and the sub-Antarctic regions of the Kerguelen Plateau and Macquarie Island. Biogeographical analyses indicate stronger faunal links between Antarctica and South America, with little evidence of links between Antarctica and South Africa, Southern Australia or New Zealand. We conclude that the biogeographic and species distribution patterns observed are largely driven by the Antarctic Circumpolar Current and the timing of past continent connectivity.
Field notes on findings of threatened amphibian species in the central mountain range of western Panama
- During field work along a transect in the Cordillera Central of western Panama between
2008 and 2010, we detected several populations of amphibian species which are considered as
“Endangered” or “Critically Endangered” by the IUCN. Some of these species had suffered from
serious population declines, probably due to chytridiomycosis, but all are generally threatened by
habitat loss. We detected 53% of the Endangered and 56% of the Critically Endangered amphibian
species that have previously been reported from within the investigated area. We report on findings
of species that have not been found in Panama for many years, and provide locality data of newly
discovered populations. There is a need to create a new protected area in the Cerro Colorado area
of the Serranía de Tabasará, where we found 15% of the Endangered and Critically Endangered amphibian species known to Panama.
Mammalian evolution may not be strictly bifurcating
Björn M. Hallström
- The massive amount of genomic sequence data that is now available for analyzing evolutionary relationships among 31 placental mammals reduces the stochastic error in phylogenetic analyses to virtually zero. One would expect that this would make it possible to finally resolve controversial branches in the placental mammalian tree. We analyzed a 2,863,797 nucleotide-long alignment (3,364 genes) from 31 placental mammals for reconstructing their evolution. Most placental mammalian relationships were resolved, and a consensus of their evolution is emerging. However, certain branches remain difficult or virtually impossible to resolve. These branches are characterized by short divergence times in the order of 1-4 million years. Computer simulations based on parameters from the real data show that as little as about 12,500 amino acid sites could be sufficient to confidently resolve short branches as old as about 90 million years ago. Thus, the amount of sequence data should no longer be a limiting factor in resolving the relationships among placental mammals. The timing of the early radiation of placental mammals coincides with a period of climate warming some 100 - 80 million years ago and with continental fragmentation. These global processes may have triggered the rapid diversification of placental mammals. However, the rapid radiations of certain mammalian groups complicate phylogenetic analyses, possibly due to incomplete lineage sorting and introgression. These speciation-related processes led to a mosaic genome and conflicting phylogenetic signals. Split network methods are ideal for visualizing these problematic branches and can therefore depict data conflict and possibly the true evolutionary history better than strictly bifurcating trees. Given the timing of tectonics, of placental mammalian divergences, and the fossil record, a Laurasian rather than Gondwanan origin of placental mammals seems the most parsimonious explanation. Key words: continental drift , Cretaceous warming , genome analysis , hybridization , phylogenomics , split decomposition