Date of Award

Spring 4-1-2011

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)



First Advisor

Matt Sponheimer

Second Advisor

Herbert Covert

Third Advisor

Dennis Van Gerven


Many Plio‐Pleistocene hominin‐bearing sites in Africa contain large samples of small mammalian fauna. Micromammals, relative to larger fauna, are a useful proxy for reconstructing local habitat. Due to their ubiquity, their small home ranges, their close affinity with certain microhabitats, and their diversity, micromammals may contribute to more precise and fine‐scale reconstruction of local paleoenvironments relevant to hominin evolution. These reconstructions are inherently dependent upon modern ecological knowledge and accurate niche modeling. This thesis focuses in greater detail on the community composition of modern micromammals in specific habitat types as well as the ecology of the predators that accumulate their remains. Particular emphasis is placed on the ecosystems surrounding several South African hominin‐bearing caves where the African Barn Owl (Tyto alba affinis) has been identified as a primary contributor to fossil assemblages. The preliminary results of a pilot study on micromammal and owl ecology conducted in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site are illustrate the stark differences between modern and Plio‐Pleistocene micromammal communities in this area.