Dietary versatility of Early Pleistocene hominins
Clumped and stable isotope data of paleosol carbonate and fossil tooth enamel inform about paleoenvironments of Early Pleistocene hominins. Data on woodland- vs. grassland-dominated ecosystems, soil temperatures, aridity, and the diet of Homo rudolfensis and Paranthropus boisei ca. 2.4 Ma show that they were adapted to C3 resources in wooded savanna environments in relatively cool and wet climates in the Malawi Rift. In contrast, time-equivalent Paranthropus living in open and drier settings in the northern East African Rift relied on C4 plants, a trend that became enhanced after 2 Ma, while southern African Paranthropus persistently relied mainly on C3 resources. In its early evolutionary history, Homo already showed a high versatility, suggesting that Pleistocene Homo and Paranthropus were already dietary generalists.New geochemical data from the Malawi Rift (Chiwondo Beds, Karonga Basin) fill a major spatial gap in our knowledge of hominin adaptations on a continental scale. Oxygen (δ18O), carbon (δ13C), and clumped (Δ47) isotope data on paleosols, hominins, and selected fauna elucidate an unexpected diversity in the Pleistocene hominin diet in the various habitats of the East African Rift System (EARS). Food sources of early Homo and Paranthropus thriving in relatively cool and wet wooded savanna ecosystems along the western shore of paleolake Malawi contained a large fraction of C3 plant material. Complementary water consumption reconstructions suggest that ca. 2.4 Ma, early Homo (Homo rudolfensis) and Paranthropus (Paranthropus boisei) remained rather stationary near freshwater sources along the lake margins. Time-equivalent Paranthropus aethiopicus from the Eastern Rift further north in the EARS consumed a higher fraction of C4 resources, an adaptation that grew more pronounced with increasing openness of the savanna setting after 2 Ma, while Homo maintained a high versatility. However, southern African Paranthropus robustus had, similar to the Malawi Rift individuals, C3-dominated feeding strategies throughout the Early Pleistocene. Collectively, the stable isotope and faunal data presented here document that early Homo and Paranthropus were dietary opportunists and able to cope with a wide range of paleohabitats, which clearly demonstrates their high behavioral flexibility in the African Early Pleistocene.