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Article: Walking on ashes: insect trace fossils from Laetoli indicate poor grass cover associated with early hominin environments

Palaeontology Cover Image - Volume 61 Part 4
Publication: Palaeontology
Volume: 61
Part: 4
Publication Date: July 2018
Page(s): 597 624
Author(s): Jorge F. Genise, and Terry Harrison
Addition Information

How to Cite

GENISE, J.F., HARRISON, T. 2018. Walking on ashes: insect trace fossils from Laetoli indicate poor grass cover associated with early hominin environments . Palaeontology, 61, 4, 597-624. DOI: 10.1111/pala.12357

Author Information

  • Jorge F. Genise - División Icnología CONICET Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales Angel Gallardo 470 1405 Buenos Aires Argentina
  • Terry Harrison - Department of Anthropology Center for the Study of Human Origins New York University 25 Waverly Place New York NY USA

Publication History

  • Issue published online: 12 June 2018
  • Manuscript Accepted: 10 January 2018
  • Manuscript Received: 25 October 2017

Funded By

NSF. Grant Number: BCS‐1350023

Online Version Hosted By

Wiley Online Library
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More than 4000 insect trace fossils collected in recent years from Pliocene deposits at Laetoli in northern Tanzania provide new insights on early hominin palaeoenvironments. These trace fossils include: Fictovichnus gobiensis, Coprinisphaera murguiai, C. kheprii, Coprinisphaera ispp., Quirogaichnus isp., Teisseirei linguatus isp. nov., Celliforma ritchiei isp. nov., C. spirifer, C. germanica, C. cfr. curvata, Celliforma ispp., Rosellichnus isp., Vondrichnus planoglobus, Laetolichnus kwekai igen. et isp. nov. and Krausichnidae indet. They reveal that at least one species of moth, three dung beetles and five other coleopterans, nine taxa of solitary bees, and an indeterminate number of taxa of termites inhabited the Lower Laetolil environments. The Upper Laetolil environments, which have yielded a rich diversity of vertebrate fossils, including the early hominin Australopithecus afarensis and its putative footprints, supported several taxa of termites, one dung beetle, five other coleopterans, and eleven taxa of bees. The Upper Ndolanya environments, which have yielded the hominin Paranthropus aethiopicus, record four taxa of dung beetles, four other coleopterans, and two taxa of bees. The record of larval mortality and lack of intruder activity, revealed by the absence of emergence and intruder traces, may be associated with the anoxic/hypoxic conditions caused by the instantaneous burial of soils under thick volcanic ashes. The record of the Celliforma Ichnofacies in the Upper Laetolil environments indicates the dominance of shrubland to woodland with limited grass cover. This is supported also by the absence of Coprinisphaera, which suggests a scarcity of fresh grasses and a low abundance of large mammal grazers.

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