Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Jonathan Wynn, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Peter Harries, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Diana Roman, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Zeresenay Alemseged, Ph.D.


Carbon isotope, Dikika, Oxygen isotope, Pliocene, Tooth enamel


The sedimentary deposits of the Hadar Formation at Dikika and the Mount Galili Formation at Galili preserve a wealth of paleoenvironmental and paleoclimatic records spanning the last 5.29 Ma. Stable carbon and oxygen isotopic compositions of herbivore tooth enamel were analyzed for more than 600 specimens of 15 different taxa from 10 stratigraphic intervals. The application of carbon and oxygen isotopes here aims principally at reconstructing shifts in the relative abundance of C4 grasses, and its implications for climate indicators including temperature, aridity, and seasonality. The full range of δ13Cenamel values throughout the Plio-Pleistocene signifies a wide range of foraging strategies by the fauna, which in turn reflects the mosaic of vegetation at Dikika and Galili. Estimates of ecosystem carbon isotope composition (δ13Cecosystem , which is given by average δ13Cenamel of each large vertebrate taxon weighted by the respective faunal abundance and the estimated daily biomass consumption) is used to asses shifts in the ecosystem-scale proportion of C3 and C4 vegetation. In the Plio-Pleistocene, the general paleoenvironmental conditions varied from wooded grassland to grasslands with the total amount of C4 grass cover on the landscape varying between 35% and 91%. Likewise, the paleohabitat reconstructions indicate the presence of grassland, wooded grassland, woodland habitats throughout the Pliocene and in Middle Pleistocene but the relative proportion of the habitats has changed substantially with time. Although this result agrees with the general trend towards more open grassland since the Late Miocene, a rebound of closed habitats and C3 resources from closed canopy woodlands or forests is evident in the middle Pliocene between 3.42 Ma and 3.24 Ma. These changes in the proportion of habitats could have affected the distribution and availability of preferred food resources and has an implication on the interaction of the animals on the paleolandscape and competition for resources.

δ 18Oenamel values also show a wide range of variation within each stratigraphic member and through time. Temporal variation of δ13Cenamel values within a given taxon, as well as differences among sympatric taxa, document different aspects of the environment and climate, including changes in drinking water source, seasonality, and periods of strong

evaporation. Estimated δ13Cmeteoric water based on the most 18O-depleted hippo tooth enamel, displays values of -1.94 / (VSMOW) and -5.24 / (VSMOW) in the Middle Pleistocene of Asbole and middle Pliocene of Galili, respectively. A major shift in the isotopic composition of water at ~ 3.0 Ma was accompanied by a 6.0 / increase from middle Pliocene to the present. While a +3.8 / shift from early to middle Pliocene was documented. The isotopic composition of meteoric water between 4.6 Ma and 4.38 Ma was most 18O-enriched compared to the rest of the Pliocene estimates. Likewise, an increase in the estimated δ13Cmeteoric water values was documented in the Awash Valley and elsewhere in East Africa, which indicate a regional climate change since the early Pliocene. An increase in the aridity, which is expressed as mean annual water deficit (i.e., the difference between potential evapotranspiration and mean annual precipitation) is also evident since the early Pliocene. These changes during the Pliocene in the region may in part be attributed to a regional decrease in the amount of precipitation and changes in the moisture source superimposed on global climate changes.