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Abiotic and Biotic Drivers of Turnover and Community Assembly in African Mammals

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Climate and environmental forcing are widely accepted to be important drivers of evolutionary and ecological change in mammal communities over geologic time scales. This paradigm has been particularly influential in

Climate and environmental forcing are widely accepted to be important drivers of evolutionary and ecological change in mammal communities over geologic time scales. This paradigm has been particularly influential in studies of the eastern African late Cenozoic fossil record, in which aridification, increasing seasonality, and C4 grassland expansion are seen as having shaped the major patterns of human and faunal evolution. Despite the ubiquity of studies linking climate and environmental forcing to evolutionary and ecological shifts in the mammalian fossil record, many central components of this paradigm remain untested or poorly developed. To fill this gap, this dissertation employs biogeographical and macroecological analyses of present-day African mammal communities as a lens for understanding how abiotic change may have shaped community turnover and structure in the eastern African Plio-Pleistocene. Three dissertation papers address: 1) the role of ecological niche breadth in shaping divergent patterns of macroevolutionary turnover across clades; 2) the effect of climatic and environmental gradients on community assembly; 3) the relative influence of paleo- versus present-day climates in structuring contemporary patterns of community diversity. Results of these papers call into question many tenets of current theory, particularly: 1) that niche breadth differences (and, by extension, their influence on allopatric speciation) are important drivers of macroevolution, 2) that climate is more important than biotic interactions in community assembly, and 3) that communities today are in equilibrium with present-day climates. These findings highlight the need to critically reevaluate the role and scale-dependence of climate in mammal evolution and community ecology and to carefully consider potential time lags and disequilibrium dynamics in the fossil record.

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Date Created
  • 2018

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Nonsocial influences on canine size in anthropoid primates

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Early hominins present an unusual pattern of sexual dimorphism. On one hand, the canine teeth of these species are weakly size-dimorphic, vertically short, and nonhoning, suggesting a social system characterized

Early hominins present an unusual pattern of sexual dimorphism. On one hand, the canine teeth of these species are weakly size-dimorphic, vertically short, and nonhoning, suggesting a social system characterized by infrequent, low-intensity intermale competition and monogamous pair-bonding. On the other hand, marked size variation in skeletal remains attributed to species of Australopithecus is thought to reflect strong body-mass dimorphism, which is more consistent with intense intermale competition. Reconciling these conflicting signals and understanding their adaptive significance is a major goal of paleoanthropology. This dissertation research contributes to this objective by investigating factors that may constrain or reduce canine height in extant anthropoid primates. Two hypotheses regarding the relationship between canine height and other elements of the masticatory system were tested using phylogenetic comparative methods. According to the first hypothesis, canine reduction is a pleiotropic by-product of changes in the sizes of other components of the dentition. With respect to canine height, the results of this study fail to support this idea. There is limited evidence for a relationship between basal canine crown dimensions and incisor and postcanine size, but significant interspecific correlations between these variables are not strong and are restricted primarily to the female maxillary dentition. These results indicate that if pleiotropy influences canine size, then its effects are weak. The second hypothesis proposes that canine reduction is a consequence of selection for increased jaw-muscle leverage. This hypothesis receives some support: there is a clear inverse relationship between canine height and the leverage of the masseter muscle in male anthropoids. Females do not exhibit this association due to the fact that dimorphism in muscle leverage is weak or absent in most anthropoid species; in other words, female muscle leverage tracks male muscle leverage, which is linked to canine height. Leverage of the temporalis muscle is not correlated with canine height in either sex. Two specimens of the 3.0-3.7-million-year-old hominin Australopithecus afarensis fall at or beyond the upper end of the great ape range of variation in masseter leverage, which is consistent with the idea that hominin canine evolution was influenced by selection for increased jaw-muscle leverage.

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Date Created
  • 2010