Temporal change in functional richness and evenness in the eastern African plio-pleistocene carnivoran guild.
We analyze functional richness and functional evenness of the carnivoran guild in eastern Africa from 3.5 Ma to 1.5 Ma, and compare them to the present day. The data consist of characters of the craniodental apparatus of 76 species of fossil and extant carnivorans, divided into four 0.5 Ma time slices from 3.5 to 1.5 Ma, together with the modern fauna. Focus is on large (>21.5 kg) carnivores. Results show that the large carnivore guild has lost nearly 99% of its functional richness since 3.5 Ma, in a process starting prior to 2 Ma. Measurement of functional evenness shows the modern large carnivore guild to be unique in being randomly distributed in morphospace while in all past time slices there is significant clustering of species. The results are analyzed in the light of known changes to climate and environment in eastern Africa. We conclude that climate change is unlikely to explain all of the changes found and suggest that the evolution of early hominins into carnivore niche space, especially the evolution of derived dietary strategies after 2 Ma, played a significant part in the reduction of carnivore functional richness.