Palaeoecological differences underlie rare co-occurrence of Miocene European primates
Background: The two main primate groups recorded throughout the European Miocene, hominoids and pliopithecoids, seldom co-occur. Due to both their rarity and insufficiently understood palaeoecology, it is currently unclear whether the infrequent co-occurrence of these groups is due to sampling bias or reflects different ecological preferences. Here we rely on the densely sampled primate-bearing sequence of Abocador de Can Mata (ACM) in Spain to test whether turnovers in primate assemblages are correlated with palaeoenvironmental changes. We reconstruct dietary evolution through time (ca. 12.6–11.4 Ma), and hence climate and habitat, using tooth-wear patterns and carbon and oxygen isotope compositions of enamel of the ubiquitous musk-deer Micromeryx.
Results: Our results reveal that primate species composition is strongly correlated with distinct environmental phases. Large-bodied hominoids (dryopithecines) are recorded in humid, densely-forested environments on the lowermost portion of the ACM sequence. In contrast, pliopithecoids inhabited less humid, patchy ecosystems, being replaced by dryopithecines and the small-bodied Pliobates toward the top of the series in gallery forests embedded in mosaic environments.
Conclusions: These results support the view that pliopithecoid primates preferred less humid habitats than hominoids, and reveal that differences in behavioural ecology were the main factor underpinning their rare co-occurrence during the European Miocene. Our findings further support that ACM hominoids, like Miocene apes as a whole, inhabited more seasonal environments than extant apes. Finally, this study highlights the importance of high-resolution, local investigations to complement larger-scale analyses and illustrates that continuous and densely-sampled fossiliferous sequences are essential for deciphering the complex interplay between biotic and abiotic factors that shaped past diversity.