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Unlike the Asian and North American Pliocene record, fossil occurrences of Canidae in Europe (and Africa) are uncommon and fragmentary. The revision of canid material from the late Pliocene site of Kvabebi (eastern Georgia) revealed the contemporaneous occurrence of three different taxa: (1) Nyctereutes megamastoides (a derived species of the Eurasian Pliocene raccoon dog-like canids); (2) Vulpes cf. V. alopecoides (representing the first occurrence of a member of the vulpine taxon V. alopecoides, a species that was the most widespread fox in the early Pleistocene in western Europe); and (3) Eucyon sp. The latter occurrence at Kvabebi completes our knowledge of the late Pliocene evolutionary history of the latest representatives of the genus in Western Europe and Central Asia. Our revision of Kvabebi canids registers a previously undocumented case of established niche partitioning among early Pliocene sympatric Canidae.
The nature and timing of environmental changes throughout the last glacial-interglacial transition in the South Caucasus, and more widely in eastern Europe, are still not fully understood. According to certain pollen records, forest expansion occurred in many areas several millennia after what is considered worldwide as the onset of the Holocene. The current problem we face is that the time lag in forest expansion varies from one sequence to another, sometimes with no delay at all. Moreover, the potential forcing/controlling factors behind this complex pattern, contrary to the almost synchronous global Holocene warming, are still a matter for debate. Accordingly, we revisit the issue of forest expansion through vegetation history obtained in the South Caucasus using a new pollen record, retrieved from the Nariani paleolake (South Georgia). These data attest to a steppic phase, initially dominated by Amaranthaceae-Chenopodiaceae (12,700–10,500 cal yr BP), then by Poaceae (10,500–9000 cal yr BP), culminating with a more forested phase (9000–5000 calyrBP). Although some palaeoclimatic regional reconstructions show a wet early Holocene, we interpret the delay in forest expansion recorded in Nariani (2500 years) as the result of reduced spring precipitation, which would have limited forest development at that time.
More than half a century since the first announcement of the late Miocene discovery from Udabno (Gare-Kaxheti, East Georgia; Figure 14.1), remains of a hominoid-like primate were described by N.O. Burtshak-Abramovitz and E. G. Gabashvili (1945, 1950) as a new taxon – Udabnopithecus garedziensis. In the years that followed, other specialists in the field changed its taxonomy. Piveteau (1957) noted its close resemblance to the genus Dryopithecus, and later publications claimed that the hominoid ape from Udabno is actually synonymous with the species Dryopithecus fontani (Simons & Pilbeam, 1965; Szalay & Delson 1979; Andrews et al., 1996), although without any substantial discussion. Yet other opinions also were expressed (Reshetov, 1966, Nesturkh, 1968). In all the publications, the stratigraphic position of Udabnopithecus is rather approximate Middle/Late Miocene or Sarmatian.
A short description of the actual remains
A detailed examination of the hominoid remains from Udabno has convinced us that even though it shows significant similarities to Sivapithecus, a similarity which will be touched upon later, it is also very close in its attributes to Dryopithecus.
Udabnopithecus is represented by the right P4 and M1 imbedded in a maxilla fragment (Figure 14.2). During the extraction of the maxilla fragment, the P4 has been detached. It seems that the same happened earlier to M2 as evidenced by the remaining part of its alveolar cavity in the maxilla, and this tooth is now lost. The attrition of the teeth is slight to medium.
The P4 is oval shaped, rather squeezed in on its medial and distal sides (Figure 14.3). Its labial facet is shorter than the lingual, while the dorsal surface is less convex than the ventral.
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