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Interpreting the diet of extinct ruminants: the case of a non-browsing giraffid

  • Nikos Solounias (a1), Mark Teaford (a1) and Alan Walker (a1)

Abstract

Modern ruminant species have traditionally been placed in three broad dietary categories (browsers, grazers and intermediates) based on their observed feeding habits. Shape analysis of premaxillary outlines of 31 species of ruminants shows that their premaxillae differ according to their dietary category. Browsers have pointed premaxillae and grazers square ones. Intermediate feeders have intermediate outlines.

The Miocene giraffid Samotherium boissieri has always been viewed as a specialized browser similar to the modern okapi, Okapia johnstoni. However, the premaxillary shape of S. boissieri falls very close to the mean of the grazers and is most similar to that of the African buffalo (Syncerus caffer), a committed grazer.

Quantitative analyses of the microscopic wear patterns on the molars reveal significant differences between three modern species from the three dietary groups. S. boissieri has more microscopic scratches on its teeth than either the modern giraffe Giraffa camelopardalis (a browser) or Grant's gazelle Gazella granti (an intermediate feeder). In this respect, it is indistinguishable from the wildebeest Connochaetes taurinus which is a committed grazer.

Both of these analyses suggest that this extinct giraffid was a grazer, although we cannot rule out the possibility that it was an intermediate feeder. It was definitely not a specialized browser as are both living members of the Giraffidae.

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