The early miocene critical zone at karungu, western Kenya: An equatorial, open habitat with few primate remains

William E. Lukens, Thomas Lehmann, Daniel J. Peppe, David L. Fox, Steven G. Driese, Kieran P. McNulty

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17 Scopus citations


Early Miocene outcrops near Karungu, Western Kenya, preserve a range of fluvio-lacustrine, lowland landscapes that contain abundant fossils of terrestrial and aquatic vertebrates. Primates are notably rare among these remains, although nearby earlyMiocene strata on Rusinga Island contain a rich assemblage of fossilized catarrhines and strepsirrhines. To explore possible environmental controls on the occurrence of early Miocene primates, we performed a deep-time Critical Zone (DTCZ) reconstruction focused on floodplain paleosols at the Ngira locality in Karungu. We specifically focused on a single stratigraphic unit (NG15), which preserves moderately developed paleosols that contain amicrovertebrate fossil assemblage. Although similarities between deposits at Karungu and Rusinga Island are commonly assumed, physical sedimentary processes, vegetative cover, soil hydrology, and some aspects of climate state are notably different between the two areas. Estimates of paleoclimate parameters using paleosol B horizon elemental chemistry and morphologic properties are consistent with seasonal, dry subhumid conditions, occasional waterlogging, and herbaceous vegetation. The reconstructed smallmammal community indicates periodic waterlogging and open-canopy conditions. Based on the presence of herbaceous root traces, abundant microcharcoal, and pedogenic carbonates with high stable carbon isotope ratios, we interpret NG15 to have formed under a warm, seasonally dry, open riparian woodland to wooded grassland, in which at least a subset of the vegetation was likely C4 biomass. Our results, coupled with previous paleoenvironmental interpretations for deposits on Rusinga Island, demonstrate that there was considerable environmental heterogeneity ranging from open to closed habitats in the early Miocene.We hypothesize that the relative paucity of primates at Karungu was driven by their environmental preference for locally abundant closed canopy vegetation, which was likely absent at Karungu, at least during the NG15 interval if not also earlier and later intervals that have not yet been studied in as much detail.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number87
JournalFrontiers in Earth Science
StatePublished - Oct 25 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding for this research was provided by the National Science Foundation (BCS #124812 to SD and DP, and BCS #1241807 to KM and DF), by the Karl und Marie Schack-Stiftung to TL, by the Vereinigung von Freunden und Förderern der Goethe-Universität Frankfurt to TL, and the Baylor University Department of Geosciences. We are grateful to the Kenyan

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Lukens, Lehmann, Peppe, Fox, Driese and McNulty.


  • Hominoid
  • Paleoclimate
  • Paleoenvironment
  • Paleosol
  • Paleovegetation


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