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  1. Studies of Rancho La Brea predators have yielded disparate dietary interpretations when analyzing bone collagen vs. enamel carbonate—requiring a better understanding of the relationship between stable carbon isotopes in these tissues. Stable carbon isotope spacing between collagen and carbonate (Δ ca-co ) has also been used as a proxy for inferring the trophic level of mammals, with higher Δ ca-co values indicative of high carbohydrate consumption. To clarify the stable isotope ecology of carnivorans, past and present, we analyzed bone collagen (carbon and nitrogen) and enamel carbonate (carbon) of extinct and extant North American felids and canids, including dire wolves, sabertooth cats, coyotes, and pumas, supplementing these with data from African wild dogs and African lions. Our results reveal that Δ ca-co values are positively related to enamel carbonate values in secondary consumers and are less predictive of trophic level. Results indicate that the foraging habitat and diet of prey affects Δ ca-co in carnivores, like herbivores. Average Δ ca-co values in Pleistocene canids (8.7+/−1‰) and felids (7.0+/−0.7‰) overlap with previously documented extant herbivore Δ ca-co values suggesting that trophic level estimates may be relative to herbivore Δ ca-co values in each ecosystem and not directly comparable between disparate ecosystems.more »Physiological differences between felids and canids, ontogenetic dietary differences, and diagenesis at Rancho La Brea do not appear to be primary drivers of Δ ca-co offsets. Environmental influences affecting protein and fat consumption in prey and subsequently by predators, and nutrient routing to tissues may instead be driving Δ ca-co offsets in extant and extinct mammals.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 20, 2023
  2. Abstract

    Dental microwear texture analysis (DMTA) is commonly used to assess the dietary ecology of modern and fossil taxa. In carnivorans, teeth with different functions record dietary behavior differently. Here, we assess DMTA variability along the tooth row of an extant carnivorous marsupial—the Tasmanian devil, Sarcophilus harrisii—which has multiple carnassial-like molars that may function and record diet similarly. We compared the complexity (Asfc), anisotropy (epLsar), and textural fill volume (Tfv) of the lower second, third, and fourth molars of Tasmanian devils to test the hypothesis that teeth with similar forms yield similar functions. Although third molars do have significantly higher epLsar values than fourth molars, all other DMTA attributes are indistinguishable from one another. These data suggest that teeth with comparable morphologies in the same taxon have similar functions and largely record diet similarly. In addition, we compared fossil and modern specimens of S. harrisii from Tasmania to assess dietary behavior over time. These analyses indicate that foods with similar textures have been consumed since the late Quaternary.

  3. Dietary variation within species has important ecological and evolutionary implications. While theoreticians have debated the consequences of trait variance (including dietary specialization), empirical studies have yet to examine intraspecific dietary variability across the globe and through time. Here, we use new and published serial sampled δ 13 C enamel values of herbivorous mammals from the Miocene to the present (318 individuals summarized, 4134 samples) to examine how dietary strategy (i.e. browser, mixed-feeder, grazer) affects individual isotopic variation. We find that almost all herbivores, regardless of dietary strategy, are composed of individual specialists. For example, Cormohipparion emsliei (Equidae) from the Pliocene of Florida (approx. 5 Ma) exhibits a δ 13 C enamel range of 13.4‰, but all individuals sampled have δ 13 C enamel ranges of less than or equal to 2‰ (mean = 1.1‰). Most notably, this pattern holds globally and through time, with almost all herbivorous mammal individuals exhibiting narrow δ 13 C enamel ranges (less than or equal to 3‰), demonstrating that individuals are specialized and less representative of their overall species' dietary breadth. Individual specialization probably reduces intraspecific competition, increases carrying capacities, and may have stabilizing effects on species and communities over time. Individual specialization among speciesmore »with both narrow and broad dietary niches is common over space and time—a phenomenon not previously well recognized or documented empirically.« less
  4. Abstract

    Gray wolf (Canis lupus) dietary behavior can be highly variable; prey species for wolves span a range of ungulates to the consumption of smaller animals. While prey species for wolves are well documented, carcass utilization within and between wolf populations is less understood. This paper examines a modern population of wolves from the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) with dental microwear texture analysis (DMTA) to gauge utilization of bone resources, or durophagy, across biological, physical, social, geographical, and temporal variables. Results indicate gradation in durophagous behavior among GYE wolves does not correlate with sex, intra‐population body size (as inferred from skeletal and soft tissue measurements), pack association, or age class. Together, findings suggest that feeding ecologies for wolves are not specific to these factors. We also found that antemortem tooth breakage rates are not positively correlated with dental microwear textures that infer durophagy. We further compare dental microwear measures with previously published data from Alaskan wolves, who were collected decades before the GYE wolf sample. Results imply elevated carcass exploitation in the contemporary GYE wolf population sample. If minimal inter‐population differences are assumed, data presented here show dietary behaviors of North American gray wolves have changed over the past fiftymore »years, indicating a possible long‐term trend that may be linked to decreased winter severity and climate change.

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  5. Abstract

    Arctic climate change poses serious threats to polar bears (Ursus maritimus) as reduced sea ice makes seal prey inaccessible and marine ecosystems undergo bottom‐up reorganization. Polar bears’ elongated skulls and reduced molar dentition, as compared to their sister species the grizzly bear (Ursus arctos), are adaptations associated with hunting seals on sea ice and a soft, lipid‐rich diet of blubber and meat. With significant declines in sea ice, it is unclear if and how polar bears may be altering their diets. Clarifying polar bear dietary responses to changing climates, both today and in the past, is critical to proper conservation and management of this apex predator. This is particularly important when a dietary strategy may be maladaptive. Here, we test the hypothesis that hard‐food consumption (i.e., less preferred foods including bone), inferred from dental microwear texture analysis, increased with Arctic warming. We find that polar bears demonstrate a conserved absence of hard‐object feeding in Alaska through time (including approximately 1000 years ago), until the 21st century, consistent with a highly conserved and specialized diet of soft blubber and flesh. Notably, our results also suggest that some 21st‐century polar bears may be consuming harder foods (e.g., increased carcass utilization, terrestrial foodsmore »including garbage), despite having skulls and metabolisms poorly suited for such a diet. Prior to the 21st century, only polar bears with larger mandibles demonstrated increased hard‐object feeding, though to a much lower degree than closely related grizzly bears which regularly consume mechanically challenging foods. Polar bears, being morphologically specialized, have biomechanical constraints which may limit their ability to consume mechanically challenging diets, with dietary shifts occurring only under the most extreme scenarios. Collectively, the highly specialized diets and cranial morphology of polar bears may severely limit their ability to adapt to a warming Arctic.

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    The Pleistocene ungulate communities from the western coastal plains of South Africa's Cape Floristic Region (CFR) are diverse and dominated by grazers, in contrast to the region's Holocene and historical faunas, which are relatively species‐poor and dominated by small‐bodied browsers and mixed feeders. An expansion of grassy habitats is clearly implied by the Pleistocene faunas, but the presence of ruminant grazers that cannot survive the summer dry season typical of the region today suggests other important paleoecological changes. Here we use dental ecometrics to explore the paleoecological implications of the region's Pleistocene faunas. We show that the dental traits (hypsodonty and occlusal topography) of the ungulates that occurred historically in the CFR track annual and summer aridity, and we use these relationships to reconstruct past aridity. Our results indicate that the Pleistocene faunas signal paleoenvironments that were on average less arid than today, including during the summer, consistent with other lines of evidence that suggest a higher water table and expansion of well‐watered habitats. Greater water availability can be explained by lower temperature and reduced evapotranspiration during cooler phases of the Pleistocene, probably coupled with enhanced groundwater recharge due to increased winter precipitation.

  7. Abstract

    Despite advances in our understanding of the geographic and temporal scope of the Paleolithic record, we know remarkably little about the evolutionary and ecological consequences of changes in human behavior. Recent inquiries suggest that human evolution reflects a long history of interconnections between the behavior of humans and their surrounding ecosystems (e.g., niche construction). Developing expectations to identify such phenomena is remarkably difficult because it requires understanding the multi‐generational impacts of changes in behavior. These long‐term dynamics require insights into the emergent phenomena that alter selective pressures over longer time periods which are not possible to observe, and are also not intuitive based on observations derived from ethnographic time scales. Generative models show promise for probing these potentially unexpected consequences of human‐environment interaction. Changes in the uses of landscapes may have long term implications for the environments that hominins occupied. We explore other potential proxies of behavior and examine how modeling may provide expectations for a variety of phenomena.