Bone Assemblages Track Animal Community Structure over 40 Years in an African Savanna Ecosystem

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Science  22 May 2009:
Vol. 324, Issue 5930, pp. 1061-1064
DOI: 10.1126/science.1171155

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Reconstructing ancient communities depends on how accurately fossil assemblages retain information about living populations. We report a high level of fidelity between modern bone assemblages and living populations based on a 40-year study of the Amboseli ecosystem in southern Kenya. Relative abundance of 15 herbivorous species recorded in the bone assemblage accurately tracks the living populations through major changes in community composition and habitat over intervals as short as 5 years. The aggregated bone sample provides an accurate record of community structure time-averaged over four decades. These results lay the groundwork for integrating paleobiological and contemporary ecological studies across evolutionary and ecological time scales. Bone surveys also provide a useful method of assessing population changes and community structure for modern vertebrates.

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