Palaeoecology of giraffe tracks in Late Pleistocene aeolianites on the Cape south coast

  • Charles Helm 1 Peace Region Palaeontology Research Centre, Tumbler Ridge, British Columbia, Canada 2 Centre for Coastal Palaeoscience, Nelson Mandela University, Port Elizabeth, South Africa http://orcid.org/0000-0001-7995-8809
  • Hayley Cawthra 1 Centre for Coastal Palaeoscience, Nelson Mandela University, Port Elizabeth, South Africa 2 Geophysics Competency, Council for Geoscience, Bellville, South Africa http://orcid.org/0000-0002-6101-5543
  • Richard Cowling Centre for Coastal Palaeoscience, Nelson Mandela University, Port Elizabeth, South Africa http://orcid.org/0000-0003-3514-2685
  • Jan De Vynck Centre for Coastal Palaeoscience, Nelson Mandela University, Port Elizabeth, South Africa http://orcid.org/0000-0003-1044-4046
  • Curtis Marean 1 Centre for Coastal Palaeoscience, Nelson Mandela University, Port Elizabeth, South Africa 2 Institute of Human Origins, School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, USA http://orcid.org/0000-0002-2670-5733
  • Richard McCrea Peace Region Palaeontology Research Centre, Tumbler Ridge, British Columbia, Canada http://orcid.org/0000-0003-1995-3103
  • Renee Rust Evolutionary Studies Institute, Archaeology and Environmental Studies, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa http://orcid.org/0000-0003-0252-5436
Keywords: fossil tracks, Still Bay, savanna, South Africa

Abstract

Until now there have been no reliable historical or skeletal fossil records for the giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) south of the Orange River or northern Namaqualand. The recent discovery of fossil giraffe tracks in coastal aeolianites east of Still Bay, South Africa, significantly increases the geographical range for this species, and has implications for Late Pleistocene climate and vegetation in the southern Cape. Giraffe populations have specialised needs, and require a savanna ecosystem. Marine geophysical and geological evidence suggests that the broad, currently submerged floodplains of the Gouritz and Breede Rivers likely supported a productive savanna of Vachellia karroo during Pleistocene glacial conditions, which would have provided a suitable habitat for this species. We show evidence for the hypothesis that the opening of the submerged shelf during glacial periods acted as a pathway for mammals to migrate along the southern coastal plain.

Significance:

  • The identification of fossil giraffe tracks on the Cape south coast, far from the area in which giraffe have previously been known to occur, is unexpected; conclusions about prehistoric conditions and vegetation can be drawn from this discovery.
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Published
2018-01-30