Phylogenetic topology mapped onto dietary ecospace reveals multiple pathways in the evolution of the herbivorous niche in African Bovidae

Julien Louys, Tyler Faith

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    Understanding the evolutionary history of the herbivore niche within African bovids has traditionally relied on examining anatomical adaptations to diet, particularly those related to digestive strategy. More recently, mesowear and stable isotope analyses have been used to great effect to reconstruct dietary preferences. We use these dietary proxies to construct a morphology-free dietary ecospace and examine the topology of the phylogenetic relationships of African bovids mapped onto this ecospace. The reconstructed dietary ecospace provides evidence for four distinct dietary classes: species with C3- or C4-dominated diets that produce low or high occlusal relief, likely related to diets high or low in abrasives, respectively. We detected no evidence for a discrete mixed feeder category; the species often categorized as such represent the end members of groups of species with either C3- or C4- dominated diets. Our analysis reveals high variability within the C4 grazing ecospace, and phylogenetic evidence indicates at least two pathways to grazing, likely related to the abrasive qualities of ingested food, which may be determined by the moisture content or the height of consumed grasses. These different pathways probably contribute to the high diversity of African grazers, both today and in the fossil record. C3 browsers (non-frugivores) also display a high degree of variation, but there are no species associated with highly abrasive diets and there is evidence for only a single evolutionary pathway. We find evidence for only one evolutionary route towards frugivory, which includes species with diets that produce both high and low occlusal reliefs. The cause of abrasive wear in frugivores may be related to grit and/or the hard parts of fruits, but this requires further examination.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)140-154
    JournalJournal of Zoological Systematics and Evolutionary Research
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2015


    Dive into the research topics of 'Phylogenetic topology mapped onto dietary ecospace reveals multiple pathways in the evolution of the herbivorous niche in African Bovidae'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this