Environmental theories of African faunal evolution state that important evolutionary changes during the Pliocene-Pleistocene interval (the last ca. 5.3 million years) were mediated by changes in African climate or shifts in climate variability. Marine sediment sequences demonstrate that subtropical African climate periodically oscillated between markedly wetter and drier conditions, paced by earth orbital variations, with evidence for step-like (+/-0.2 Ma) increases in African climate variability and aridity near 2.8 Ma, 1.7 Ma, and 1.0 Ma, coincident with the onset and intensification of high-latitude glacial cycles. Analysis of the best dated and most complete African mammal fossil databases indicates African faunal assemblage and, perhaps, speciation changes during the Pliocene-Pleistocene, suggesting more varied and open habitats at 2.9-2.4 Ma and after 1.8 Ma. These intervals correspond to key junctures in early hominid evolution, including the emergence of our genus Homo. Pliocene-Pleistocene shifts in African climate, vegetation, and faunal assemblages thus appear to be roughly contemporary, although detailed comparisons are hampered by sampling gaps, dating uncertainties, and preservational biases in the fossil record. Further study of possible relations between African faunal and climatic change will benefit from the accelerating pace of important new fossil discoveries, emerging molecular biomarker methods for reconstructing African paleovegetation changes, tephra correlations between terrestrial and marine sequences, as well as continuing collaborations between the paleoclimatic and paleoanthropological communities. (C) 2004 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
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