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What did the Australopithecus eat?

Fruits rich in sugars, seeds, roots, tubers and bark could have been the staple diet of 'Australopithecus afarensis', a Pliocene hominid of eastern Africa, who lived between four, three and two million years ago. It is one of the main conclusions of the study on diet and ecology of this hominid, published in the journal 'Journal of Human Evolution' by a team of Anthropology Unit, Department of Animal Biology, University of Barcelona (UB).

Staff | 23 november 2009

The reconstruction of the diet, led by professor Alejandro Pérez-Pérez, was done by analyzing the pattern of microstriation of the post canine dentition of Australopithecus afarensis, caused during the chewing process by structural elements present in vegetables, called phytoliths that are abrasives and grate the tooth enamel. In addition, the same process also involves food intake of sand or dust, which implies greater abrasion.

All these elements are capable of damaging the enamel micro structurally in the process of chewing because they have a higher hardness. The counting and characterization of microestriacions and statistical analysis, have allowed to attribute a specific diet and ecology of this fossil species based on the pattern of microstriation of current primate species, whose diet is well documented.

According to Ferran Estebaranz, first author of this research, "the microstriation pattern of Australopithecus afarensis shows clear similarities with the current hominid species such as the gorillas of Cameroon”.

Thus, its diet is based mainly on fruits rich in sugars, although during hard times, it has to feed primarily on food poor in energy resources but abundant, such as seeds, roots, tubers or bark. Their diet appears to be homogeneous, which indicates that they were able to find and select the preferred resources in various ecological environments. Moreover, this did not vary over time despite progressive desertification suffered in East Africa some three and four million years ago.
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15 comments

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