Microwear evidence for Plio-Pleistocene bovid diets from Makapansgat Limeworks Cave, South Africa

Blaine W. Schubert, Peter S. Ungar, Matt Sponheimer, Kaye Reed

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


Makapansgat Limeworks Cave is a well-known Australopithecus africanus bearing locality that has spawned a considerable amount of paleoecological research because of its hominin component. Most recently, the paleoecology of this Plio-Pleistocene site has been studied by determining the diet and habitat of other extinct taxa, particularly the bovids. The diets of seven bovids (Aepyceros sp., Gazella vanhoepeni, Makapania broomi, Parmularius braini, Redunca darti, Tragelaphus sp. aff. T. angasii, and Tragelaphus pricei) have now been classified using taxonomic uniformitarianism, ecomorphology, stable carbon isotopes, and mesowear analysis. Here, dental microwear is applied to the same bovids for additional comparison and to further elucidate the strengths and weaknesses of each method. The different dietary proxy methods noted provide a temporal continuum, with genetic signals such as ecomorphology and taxonomic uniformitarianism indicating behavioral adaptations over geologic time, while nongenetic data such as stable carbon isotopes and mesowear reflect different aspects of average diet over extended portions of an animal's life, and dental microwear provides dietary snapshots. Microwear separated an extant baseline of ten bovid species into expected dietary categories and the Makapansgat bovids clearly fell into two groups with the same degree of separation as between extant grazers and browsers. The results indicate that a multidisciplinary approach produces a more accurate and robust reconstruction of past diets. In sum, the microwear analysis is in-line with the isotope and mesowear results, which suggest a stronger browsing component than either taxonomic uniformitarianism or ecomorphology imply.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)301-319
Number of pages19
JournalPalaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Nov 9 2006


  • Bovids
  • Makapansgat
  • Microwear
  • Paleodiets
  • Paleoecology
  • Plio-Pleistocene

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Palaeontology


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