To understand the environmental pressures that shaped human evolution, scientists must first piece together the details of the ancient plant and animal communities that our fossil ancestors lived in over the past seven million years. Because putting together the puzzle of millions-of-years-old ecosystems is a difficult task, many studies have reconstructed the environments by drawing analogies with present-day African ecosystems , such as the Serengeti.
A study led by a University of Utah scientist calls into question such approaches and suggests that the vast majority of human evolution occurred in ecosystems unlike any found today.
For example, fossil communities supported a greater diversity of megaherbivores, species over 2,000 pounds, such as elephants. Likewise, the dietary structure of fossil communities frequently departed from those seen today, with patterns of grass and leaf eating species fluctuating in abundance.
“If we continue to reconstruct ancient environments on the basis of modern African ecosystems, we are likely missing an entire realm of possibilities in how past ecosystems functioned. Our study invites our fellow researchers to think more critically about that,” [said lead author Tyler Faith].
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