Sunday Need to Read: The Backlog Keeps Growing

I seem to be acquiring papers quicker than I can read them. It doesn’t help the my printer is out of ink and I hate reading pdfs on the computer…a problem which should be remedied later this week.


Molar microwear and dietary reconstructions of fossil Cercopithecoidea from the Plio-Pleistocene deposits of South Africa. One of the issues in understanding australopithecine diets is the C-4 conundrum (more about that in a future post). The Grine et al paper plays a role in that debate. Here is the abstract:

The South African Plio-Pleistocene cave deposits have yielded a diverse cercopithecoid fauna. In this study, the possible dietary proclivities of these extinct species are examined using details of molar microwear. Although sample sizes are often small, wear patterns suggest possible temporal changes in the diets of Parapapio jonesi from Makapansgat to Sterkfontein, of Papio robinsoni from Sterkfontein to Swartkrans, and Cercopithecoides williamsi from Makapansgat to Sterkfontein to Swartkrans. However, there does not appear to have been a significant change in the dietary habits of Parapapio broomi over time. The microwear patterns of the two temporally successive congeners, Theropithecus darti and T. oswaldi show no significant differences from one another. The sympatric congeners, Parapapio broomi and Pp. jonesi, have microwear signatures that differ significantly at Makapansgat (Members 3 and 4) but not at Sterkfontein (Member 4). Finally, the microwear analyses suggest that the extinct cercopithecoid species did not necessarily have diets similar to those of their closest living relatives.

The Ordovician Radiation: A Follow-up to the Cambrian Explosion?. The Cambrian Explosion is justifiably famous – and frequently misunderstood – but an event every bit as interesting is the Ordovician Radiation. Here is the abstract:

There was a major diversification known as the Ordovician Radiation, in the period immediately following the Cambrian. This event is unique in taxonomic, ecologic and biogeographic aspects. While all of the phyla but one were established during the Cambrian explosion, taxonomic increases during the Ordovician were manifest at lower taxonomic levels although ordinal level diversity doubled. Marine family diversity tripled and within clade diversity increases occurred at the genus and species levels. The Ordovician radiation established the Paleozoic Evolutionary Fauna; those taxa which dominated the marine realm for the next 250 million years. Community structure dramatically increased in complexity. New communities were established and there were fundamental shifts in dominance and abundance. Over the past ten years, there has been an effort to examine this radiation at different scales. In comparison with the Cambrian explosion which appears to be more globally mediated, local and regional studies of Ordovician faunas reveal sharp transitions with timing and magnitudes that vary geographically. These transitions suggest a more episodic and complex history than that revealed through synoptic global studies alone. Despite its apparent uniqueness, we cannot exclude the possibility that the Ordovician radiation was an extension of Cambrian diversity dynamics. That is, the Ordovician radiation may have been an event independent of the Cambrian radiation and thus requiring a different set of explanations, or it may have been
the inevitable follow-up to the Cambrian radiation. Future studies should focus on resolving this issue.

Neanderthal hunting ability has been a contentious issue for quite some time. Ungulates and the Middle-to-Upper Paleolithic transition at Grotte XVI (Dordogne, France) looks at the issue and concludes that, at Grotte XVI at least, the odd man out is the Magdalenian. From the conclusion:

Caveats aside, Grotte XVI is the first site from southwestern France to have provided substantial ungulate assemblages from securely stratified, carefully excavated Mousterian, Chaˆtelperronian, and early Aurignacian contexts. Our analyses suggest that there are no detectable, significant differences across these assemblages, other than those that can be accounted for by climate change.

Finally, and this one is really cool, Cultural transmission of tool use in bottlenose dolphins. Here is the abstract:

In Shark Bay, wild bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops sp.) apparently use marine sponges as foraging tools. We demonstrate that genetic and ecological explanations for this behavior are inadequate; thus, ”sponging” classifies as the first case of an existing material
culture in a marine mammal species. Using mitochondrial DNA analyses, we show that sponging shows an almost exclusive vertical social transmission within a single matriline from mother to female offspring. Moreover, significant genetic relatedness among all adult spongers at the nuclear level indicates very recent coancestry, suggesting that all spongers are descendents of one recent ”Sponging Eve.” Unlike in apes, tool use in this population is almost exclusively limited to a single matriline that is part of a large albeit open social network of frequently interacting individuals, adding a new dimension to charting cultural phenomena
among animals.

I can’t resist quoting this from the conclusion:

In contrast with non-human primates, where culture has been demonstrated by
using regional comparisons between populations …, the observed vertical transmission of culture with a matriline of a single population creates a different spatial pattern. Thus, the operational definition of culture used in primatology … does not capture cases as described in our study. We propose, therefore, to extend this definition to ”include traditions that are habitual in some but not other individuals with overlapping home ranges, within the same
population, where genetic and behavioral data are inconsistent with those individuals having acquired the behavior genetically.”

Indeed, culture, like species and pornography is something we have a hard time defining, but we know it when we see it…

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3 Responses

  1. I feel your pain at being out of printer ink and hating to read pdf stuff on a computer. I’ve been there, done that, moroften than you might think. That’s what comes of being a Starving Writer(sometimes). On a more paleoanthropological note, I don’t have these particular papers, or I’d cheerfuly send copies to you.
    Anne G

  2. Anne – I have them and if you want copies just click on the links…

  3. Dolphins have been big-brained a lot longer than hominids, so it’s interesting that this tool use seems to have arisen recently. It’s unlikely that sponging is radically superior to other foraging techniques, or else the odds are that it would have arisen a long time ago and that matrilineal line would’ve taken over everywhere. I’m guessing that it’s more of a fashion than a superior technique.
    One off-the-wall possibility – that recent common ancestor lived in the last 60 years, and observed/imitated human tool use by snorkelers or divers.

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