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Sacrum morphology supports taxonomic heterogeneity of “Australopithecus africanus” at Sterkfontein Member 4


Fornai, Cinzia; Krenn, Viktoria A; Mitteroecker, Philipp; Webb, Nicole M; Haeusler, Martin (2021). Sacrum morphology supports taxonomic heterogeneity of “Australopithecus africanus” at Sterkfontein Member 4. Communications Biology, 4:347.

Abstract

The presence of multiple Australopithecus species at Sterkfontein Member 4, South Africa (2.07–2.61 Ma), is highly contentious, and quantitative assessments of craniodental and postcranial variability remain inconclusive. Using geometric morphometrics, we compared the sacrum of the small-bodied, presumed female subadult Australopithecus africanus skeleton Sts 14 to the large, alleged male adult StW 431 against a geographically diverse sample of modern humans, and two species of Pan, Gorilla, and Pongo. The probabilities of sampling morphologies as distinct as Sts 14 and StW 431 from a single species ranged from 1.3 to 2.5% for the human sample, and from 0.0 to 4.5% for the great apes, depending on the species and the analysis. Sexual dimorphism and developmental or geologic age could not adequately explain the differences between StW 431 and Sts 14, suggesting that they are unlikely to be conspecific. This supports earlier claims of taxonomic heterogeneity at Sterkfontein Member 4.

Abstract

The presence of multiple Australopithecus species at Sterkfontein Member 4, South Africa (2.07–2.61 Ma), is highly contentious, and quantitative assessments of craniodental and postcranial variability remain inconclusive. Using geometric morphometrics, we compared the sacrum of the small-bodied, presumed female subadult Australopithecus africanus skeleton Sts 14 to the large, alleged male adult StW 431 against a geographically diverse sample of modern humans, and two species of Pan, Gorilla, and Pongo. The probabilities of sampling morphologies as distinct as Sts 14 and StW 431 from a single species ranged from 1.3 to 2.5% for the human sample, and from 0.0 to 4.5% for the great apes, depending on the species and the analysis. Sexual dimorphism and developmental or geologic age could not adequately explain the differences between StW 431 and Sts 14, suggesting that they are unlikely to be conspecific. This supports earlier claims of taxonomic heterogeneity at Sterkfontein Member 4.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:04 Faculty of Medicine > Institute of Evolutionary Medicine
Dewey Decimal Classification:610 Medicine & health
Language:English
Date:1 December 2021
Deposited On:18 Mar 2021 07:41
Last Modified:18 Mar 2021 07:41
Publisher:Nature Publishing Group
ISSN:2399-3642
OA Status:Gold
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1038/s42003-021-01850-7
Project Information:
  • : FunderSNSF
  • : Grant ID31003A_176319
  • : Project TitleBirth and human evolution - implications from computer-assisted reconstructions

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