Two species, two different environments

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Art – Kaedan O’Brien, Nicholas Hebdon, J. Tyler Faith, “Paleoecological evidence for environmental specialization in Paranthropus boisei compared to early Homo”

Journal of Human Evolution 177 (2023), 103325

Available online April 2023

Between 2.7 and 1.2 million years ago (later abbreviated to Ma), several species of hominins coexisted in Africa. This was the case, for example, of Paranthropus boisei, a species that became extinct around 1.2 Ma and is characterized by extremely developed cranial structures, and Homo habilis, the first species belonging to the genus Homo that emerged around 2.8 Ma. A recurring question is the ecological niches occupied by these species. It is commonly accepted thatHomo habilis is more ecologically flexible and adapts to different types of environments while Paranthropus boisei is more “specialized” to one type of environment. Nevertheless, it is difficult to test this hypothesis quantitatively. This is why this study proposes to quantify these environmental associations based on the study of faunal assemblages (=a set of fossils belonging to non-human animals), and more particularly of cattle.

Indeed, animal species, like plant species, are dependent on a climate and an environment. Researchers used Hominin fossils and faunal assemblages from the Koobi Fora Formation (Kenya, Africa). Indeed, this site has delivered a significant quantity of animal fossils dated between 1.98 and 1.38 Ma as well as remains of Hominins present in these same archaeological levels. This important fauna allows us to establish a high resolution of the environmental variability at this time. In this study, statistical methods are used to determine if there is a relationship between the type of environment and the Hominin species studied.

We must be careful here about conservation biases between the different faunal assemblages studied, but the results show that Homo habilis does indeed seem to occupy a greater variety of environments, ranging from dry savannah-type environments to grasslands, via forest environments. Conversely, P. boisei seems to be more restricted to a wooded savannah type environment.

Read the full article here

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