The dietary competitive environment of the origination and early diversification of euprimates in North America

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The earliest Eocene marked the appearance of the first North American euprimates (adapids, omomyids). Despite the fact that leading hypotheses assert that traits involved in food acquisition underlie euprimate origination and early diversification, the precise role that dietary competition played

The earliest Eocene marked the appearance of the first North American euprimates (adapids, omomyids). Despite the fact that leading hypotheses assert that traits involved in food acquisition underlie euprimate origination and early diversification, the precise role that dietary competition played in establishing euprimates as successful members of mammalian communities is unclear. This is because the degree of niche overlap between euprimates and all likely mammalian dietary competitors ("the euprimate competitive guild") is unknown. This research determined which of three major competition hypotheses - non-competition, strong competition, and weak competition - characterized the late Paleocene-early Eocene euprimate competitive guild. Each of these hypotheses is defined by a unique temporal pattern of niche overlap between euprimates and their non-euprimate competitors, allowing an evaluation of the nature of dietary competitive interactions surrounding the earliest euprimates in North America. Dietary niches were reconstructed for taxa within the fossil euprimate competitive guild using molar morphological measures determined to discriminate dietary regimes in two extant mammalian guilds. The degree of dietary niche separation among taxa was then evaluated across a series of fossil samples from the Bighorn Basin, Wyoming just prior to, during, and after euprimate origination. Statistical overlap between each pair of euprimate and non-euprimate dietary niches was determined using modified multivariate pairwise comparisons using distances in a multidimensional principal component "niche" space. Results indicate that euprimate origination and diversification in North America was generally characterized by the absence of dietary competition. This lack of competition with non-euprimates is consistent with an increase in the abundance and diversity of euprimates during the early Eocene, signifying that the "success" of euprimates may not be the result of direct biotic interactions between euprimates and other mammals. An examination of the euprimate dietary niche itself determined that adapids and omomyids occupied distinct niches and did not engage in dietary competition during the early Eocene. Furthermore, changes in euprimate dietary niche size over time parallel major climatic shifts. Reconstructing how both biotic and abiotic mechanisms affected Eocene euprimates has the potential to enhance our understanding of these influences on modern primate communities.