The rise of the hominids as an adaptive shift in fallback foods: plant underground storage organs (USOs) and australopith origins.

Bibliographic Collection: 
MOCA Reference, APE
Publication Type: Journal Article
Authors: Laden, Greg; Wrangham, Richard
Year of Publication: 2005
Journal: J Hum Evol
Volume: 49
Issue: 4
Pagination: 482-98
Date Published: 2005 Oct
Publication Language: eng
ISSN: 0047-2484
Keywords: Adaptation, Biological, Animals, Biological Evolution, Ecosystem, Environment, Food habits, Hominidae, Plant Roots

We propose that a key change in the evolution of hominids from the last common ancestor shared with chimpanzees was the substitution of plant underground storage organs (USOs) for herbaceous vegetation as fallback foods. Four kinds of evidence support this hypothesis: (1) dental and masticatory adaptations of hominids in comparison with the African apes; (2) changes in australopith dentition in the fossil record; (3) paleoecological evidence for the expansion of USO-rich habitats in the late Miocene; and (4) the co-occurrence of hominid fossils with root-eating rodents. We suggest that some of the patterning in the early hominid fossil record, such as the existence of gracile and robust australopiths, may be understood in reference to this adaptive shift in the use of fallback foods. Our hypothesis implicates fallback foods as a critical limiting factor with far-reaching evolutionary effects. This complements the more common focus on adaptations to preferred foods, such as fruit and meat, in hominid evolution.

DOI: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2005.05.007
Alternate Journal: J. Hum. Evol.