Paleosols and Paleoenvironments of the Middle Miocene Maboko Formation, Kenya

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paleosol, paleoenvironment, Miocene, Kenyapithecus, Victoriapithecus, Mabokopithecus

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The middle Miocene (15 Ma) Maboko Formation of Maboko Island and Majiwa Bluffs, southwestern Kenya, has yielded abundant fossils of the earliest known cercopithecoid monkey (Victoriapithecus macinnesi), and of a kenyapithecine hominoid (Kenyapithecus africanus), as well as rare proconsuline (Simiolus leakeyorum, cf.Limnopithecus evansi ) and oreopithecine apes (Mabokopithecus clarki, M. pickfordi), and galagids (Komba winamensis). Specific habitat preferences can be interpreted from large collections of primate fossils in different kinds of paleosols (pedotypes). Fossiliferous drab-colored paleosols with iron-manganese nodules (Yom pedotype) are like modern soils of seasonally waterlogged depressions (dambo). Their crumb structure and abundant fine root-traces, as well as scattered large calcareous rhizoconcretions indicate former vegetation of seasonally wet, wooded grassland. Other fossiliferous paleosols are evidence of nyika bushland (Ratong), and early-successional riparian woodland (Dhero). No fossils were found in Mogo paleosols interpreted as saline scrub soils. Very shallow calcic horizons (in Yom, Ratong, and Mogo paleosols) and Na-montmorillonite (in Mogo) are evidence of dry paleoclimate (300–500 mm MAP=mean annual precipitation). This is the driest paleoclimate and most open vegetation yet inferred as a habitat for any Kenyan Miocene apes or monkeys. Victoriapithecus was abundant in dambo wooded grassland (Yom) and riparian woodland (Dhero), a distribution like that of modern vervet monkeys.Kenyapithecus ranged through all these paleosols, but was the most common primate in nyika bushland paleosols (Ratong), comparable to baboons and macaques today. Mabokopithecus was virtually restricted to riparian woodland paleosols (Dhero), and Simiolus had a similar, but marginally wider, distribution. Habitat preferences of Mabokopithecus andSimiolus were like those of modern colobus monkeys and mangabeys. A single specimen of Komba was found in dambo wooded grassland paleosol (Yom), a habitat more like that of the living Senegal bushbaby than of rainforest galagids. A shift to non-forest habitats may explain the terrestrial adaptations of Victoriapithecus, basal to the cercopithecid radiation, and of Kenyapithecus, basal to the hominoid radiation. Both taxa are distinct from earlier Miocene arboreal proconsulines, oreopithecines and galagids.

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Journal of Human Evolution, v. 42, issue 6, p. 659-703