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Mastodon herbivory in mid-latitude late-Pleistocene boreal forests of eastern North America

TitleMastodon herbivory in mid-latitude late-Pleistocene boreal forests of eastern North America
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsTeale, CL, Miller, NG
JournalQuaternary Research
Pagination72 - 81
KeywordsAlnus, Chemung Site, Hiscock Site, Hyde Park mastodon, Mastodon herbivory, northeastern United States, Pleistocene megafaunal extinction, Taphonomy, Vegetation history, Younger Dryas chronozone

Skeletal remains of the extinct American mastodon have often been found with deposits of short, decorticated twigs intermixed with plant fragments presumed to be gastrointestinal or fecal material. If such deposits are digesta, paleobotanical evidence may be used to analyze mastodon foraging strategy, with implications for assessing habitat selection, ecological roles, and response to environmental change. To identify components of mastodon diet in mid-latitude late-Pleistocene boreall forests of eastern North America, plant macrofossils and pollen from a molar socket (Hyde Park site, New York) were compared with dispersed deposits associated with skeletal remains (Hiscock and Chemung sites, New York). Similar macrofossil condition and twig morphology among samples, but difference from a modern boreal fen analog, confirmed the deposits were digesta. Comparison of twigs with material from other paleontological sites and modern elephants suggested dimensions generally indicative of digesta. Picea formed the bulk of each sample but Pinus may have been locally important. Wintertime browsing of Salix and Populus, and springtime consumption of Alnus, were indicated. Evidence for Cyperaceae, Gramineae, and Compositae was ambiguous. If conifers, broadleaf trees, shrubs, and herbs were necessary to fulfill dietary requirements, mastodons would have been nutritionally stressed by rapid late-Pleistocene decrease in vegetational diversity.

Short TitleQuat. res.