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When African animals hit the hay
Date:4/4/2011

can plant-eating animals:

  • Ancient equids, from which the zebra evolved, were the first herbivores to develop a diet primarily of C4 grass. Between 9.9 million years ago and 7.4 million years ago, they made a rapid transition, geologically speaking, from eating trees and shrubs to eating almost exclusively C4 grasses.

  • Relatives of the rhino also adopted primarily C4 grass diets before most other families, as far back as 9.6 million years ago. However, some kept browsing on trees and shrubs or had mixed diets of those plants plus C4 grasses. Thus, different rhino species were not necessarily competing for the same food as is true with modern rhinos.

  • Two elephant ancestral lines, elephantids and gomphotheres, did not begin their switch to C4 grass until about 7.4 million years ago, but once they did, they remained grazers until very recently, probably in the last million years or so. Today, African and Asian elephants eat mostly C3 trees and shrubs.

  • Suids, ancestors of bushpigs and warthogs, were slow to eat C4 grass. Few ate it more than 9 million years ago, and only from 6.5 million to 4.2 million years ago did suids have a diet that either was a mix of C3 leaves and C4 grasses or dominated by grasses. Modern suids occupy many ecosystems, so they have diets with both kinds of plants.

  • The common hippo today eats mostly C4 grass, but 9.9 million years ago, its ancestors were only eating C3 trees and shrubs. The change was gradual.

  • Bovids which today include gazelles, wildebeest and cape buffalo were eating C4 grass by 9.6 million years ago, but some species maintained C3 diets, some ate C4 grasses and others ate both.

  • Now-extinct deinotheriids, which had two tusks in the lower jaw and were relatives of elephants, show no sign of C4 grass in their diet throughout their history.

  • Giraffids, which gave rise to the modern giraffe, relied only on C3 plants throughout the record, in part bec
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Contact: Lee Siegel
leesiegel@ucomm.utah.edu
801-581-8993
University of Utah
Source:Eurekalert  

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