Blood, bulbs, and bunodonts: on evolutionary ecology and the diets of Ardipithecus, Australopithecus, and early Homo.
Beginning with Darwin, some have argued that predation on other vertebrates dates to the earliest stages of hominid evolution, and can explain many uniquely human anatomical and behavioral characters. Other recent workers have focused instead on scavenging, or particular plant foods. Foraging theory suggests that inclusion of any food is influenced by its profitability and distribution within the consumer's habitat. The morphology and likely cognitive abilities of Ardipithecus, Australopithecus, and early Homo suggest that while hunting and scavenging occurred, their profitability generally would have been considerably lower than in extant primates and/or modern human hunter-gatherers. On the other hand, early hominid diet modelers should not focus solely on plant foods, as this overlooks standard functional interpretations of the early hominid dentition, their remarkable demographic success, and the wide range of available food types within their likely day ranges. Any dietary model focusing too narrowly on any one food type or foraging strategy must be viewed with caution. We argue that early hominid diet can best be elucidated by consideration of their entire habitat-specific resource base, and by quantifying the potential profitability and abundance of likely available foods.