The taxonomy and taphonomy in mio-pliocene and late middle pleistocene micromammals from the Cape west coast, South Africa

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

The study sites investigated in this thesis are situated along the southwest coast of South Africa in an area dominated by the sclerophyllous fynbos of the Strandveld and Sandveld, which supports a well-known micromammal (murid, soricid, macroscelid, bathyergid and chrysochlorid) fauna. This study presents the results of a taphonomic, taxonomic and palaeoecological study of micromammal assemblages from two palaeontological sites in the Saldanha Bay/Langebaanweg area on the west coast, in the western Cape Province, South Africa. The micromammalian populations of these two sites are compared both taxonomically, and taphonomically, with other fossil sites on the west coast dating to the Terminal Pleistocene and Holocene. The older of the two sites is 'E' Quarry at Langebaanweg. a disused phosphate mine, which is the only site in the western Cape Province representing the Mio-Pliocene, a slice of time when modem micromammal genera were emerging. The second site investigated in this thesis is the late Middle Pleistocene site of Hoedjiespunt 1, which fills a significant gap in the continuum of micromammal evolution in the western Cape. This site contained faunal remains accumulated by a brown hyaena (Hyaena brunnea), and micromammal bones and teeth were recovered from the same sediments. The Hoedjiespunt 1 micromammal assemblages have added to the information available on the past distribution of several species in the Saldanha area, and have confirmed the presence of several endemic species in the west coast area during the late Middle Pleistocene. A comparison between the other west coast fossil sites and Hoedjiespunt 1 indicates that conditions on the west coast in the late Middle Pleistocene were relatively more arid. The micromammals from Langebaanweg 'E' Quarry indicate that fynbos microhabitats were well established during the Mia-Pliocene on the west coast. Both the fynbos, and most of the micro mammal genera present at LBW, have families resident in the west coast area today. The micromammal assemblages from Langebaanweg indicate that the general micromammal population in the area remained relatively unchanged during the period of deposition of the two main fossil-bearing members of the Varswater Formation. There is no compelling evidence to suggest that any marked climatic or environmental change took place during this period.

Includes bibliographical references.