Anthropology, Loyola University Chicago
Thursday 11:00-11:15, Grand Ballroom II
This research is designed to test the recurrent suggestion that Australopithecus robustus were habitat specialists, preferring an environment consisting of predominately open to lightly wooded grasslands situated within a larger habitat mosaic. Establishing the habitat associations of A. robustus holds important implications for understanding the behavior of these hominins and, potentially, for determining whether climate change influenced their ultimate extinction. To this end, fossil bovids are widely recognized as valuable ecological indicators, useful for reconstructing paleoenvironments associated with early hominin remains. The bovids associated with A. robustus from Cooper’s D and Swartkrans Members 1, 2, and 3 were identified using a reliable, standardized approach involving Elliptical Fourier Function Analysis. This approach involves digitizing the occlusal surface of bovid teeth, calculating an average outline for each tooth/species, and statistically comparing the quantified tooth shape to other closely related bovids. More accurate identifications of fossils bovids provide for more precise estimates of their relative abundance, allowing for finer resolution of the reconstructed habitat mosaics. The relative abundances of bovids and of robust australopiths in each of the assemblages were compared in a temporal sequence to determine the habitat associations of these hominins. A. robustus were not statistically correlated with any particular habitat type as reconstructed from the bovid assemblages, suggesting that the grasslands that the hominins are typically considered to have occupied might not reflect their habitat preference. A. robustus likely occupied multiple types of habitats, suggesting that they were habitat generalists rather than habitat specialists.