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  1. 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
  2. Global vegetation over the past 18,000 years has been transformed first by the climate changes that accompanied the last deglaciation and again by increasing human pressures; however, the magnitude and patterns of rates of vegetation change are poorly understood globally. Using a compilation of 1181 fossil pollen sequences and newly developed statistical methods, we detect a worldwide acceleration in the rates of vegetation compositional change beginning between 4.6 and 2.9 thousand years ago that is globally unprecedented over the past 18,000 years in both magnitude and extent. Late Holocene rates of change equal or exceed the deglacial rates for all continents, which suggests that the scale of human effects on terrestrial ecosystems exceeds even the climate-driven transformations of the last deglaciation. The acceleration of biodiversity change demonstrated in ecological datasets from the past century began millennia ago.

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  4. Palaeoecological interpretations are based on our understanding of dietary and habitat preferences of fossil taxa. While morphology provides approximations of diets, stable isotope proxies provide insights into the realized diets of animals. We present a synthesis of the isotopic ecologies (δ13C from tooth enamel) of North American mammalian herbivores since approximately 7 Ma. We ask: (i) do morphological interpretations of dietary behaviour agree with stable isotope proxy data? (ii) are grazing taxa specialists, or is grazing a means to broaden the dietary niche? and (iii) how is dietary niche breadth attained in taxa at the local level? We demonstrate that while brachydont taxa are specialized as browsers, hypsodont taxa often have broader diets that included more browse consumption than previously anticipated. It has long been accepted that morphology imposes limits on the diet; this synthesis supports prior work that herbivores with ‘grazing’ adaptions, such as hypsodont teeth, have the ability to consume grass but are also able to eat other foods. Notably, localized dietary breadth of even generalist taxa can be narrow (approx. 30 to 60% of a taxon's overall breadth). This synthesis demonstrates that ‘grazing-adapted’ taxa are varied in their diets across space and time, and this flexibility maymore »reduce competition among ancient herbivores.« less
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