|Specimen of Gomphotherium productum at the AMNH|
(Hay, 1922) A. Cabrera 1929
Gomphotheres are any members of the diverse, extinct taxonomic family Gomphotheriidae. Gomphotheres were elephant-like proboscideans, but not belonging to the family Elephantidae. They were widespread in North America during the Miocene and Pliocene epochs, 12–1.6 million years ago. Some lived in parts of Eurasia, Beringia, and following the Great American Interchange into South America. Beginning about 5 million years ago, they were gradually replaced by modern elephants[clarification needed], apart from the last two South American genera, of which Cuvieronius did not become extinct until 9,100 BP, and Haplomastodon, by some authors reclassified into Notiomastodon, fossils have been dated to as recently as 6,060 BP in the Valle del Magdalena, Colombia. These gomphotheres also survived in Mexico and Central America until the end of the Pleistocene.
The name "gomphothere" comes from Ancient Greek γόμφος, "peg, pin; wedge; joint" plus θηρίον, "beast".
Gomphotheres differed from elephants in their tooth structure, particularly the chewing surfaces on the molar teeth. The earlier species had four tusks, and their retracted facial and nasal bones prompted paleontologists to believe that gomphotheres had elephant-like trunks.
The genera Anancus, Morrillia, Paratetralophodon, and Tetralophodon, but also the families Choerolophodontidae and Amebelodontidae were formerly classified as gomphotheres, while recent work recovers gomphotheres sensu lato, as paraphyletic, with tetralophodont gompotheres closely related to Elephantidae and amebelodonts and choerolophodonts more primitive than trilophodont gomphotheres. Phylogeny of trilophodont Gomphotheres according to Mothé et al., 2016:
Isotopic analyses of South American gomphotheres suggest a wide diet for Notiomastodon platensis, except for the fossils unearthed at the localities in Santiago del Estero and La Carolina in Ecuador. Isotope analyses suggested an exclusive C4 diet, whereas every other South American locality indicates an exclusive C3 or mixed C3 and C4 diet. The results also support the latitudinal gradient of C3 and C4 grasses. The stereomicrowear analyses for N. platensis exhibited average scratch and pit values, which place it within the extant mixed-feeder morphospace and the higher frequency of fine scratches indicated the ingestion of C3 grasses. Alternatively, the presence of coarse and hypercoarse scratches along with gouges and large pits suggests the ingestion of foliage and lignified portions. The plant microfossil analysis recovered fragments of conifer tracheid and vessel elements with a ray of parenchyma cells, which corroborates the consumption of wood plants, pollen grains, spores, and fibers. The Aguas de Araxa gomphotheres were generalist feeders and consumed wood elements, leaves, and C3 grasses. Cuvieronius specimens from Chile were exclusively C3 plant eaters, whereas specimens from Bolivia and Ecuador are classified as having a mixed C3 and C4 diet. Notiomastodon showed a wider range of dietary adaptations. Specimens from Quequen Salado in Buenos Aires Province were entirely C3 feeders, whereas the diet of specimens from La Carolina Peninsula in Ecuador was exclusively C4.
Possible causes for extinction
The results confirm that ancient diets cannot always be interpreted solely from dental morphology or extrapolated from present relatives. The data from Middle and Late Pleistocene periods indicate that over time, there was a shift in dietary patterns away from predominantly mixed feeders to more specialized feeders. This dietary evolution may have been one of the factors that contributed to the disappearance of South American gomphotheres at the end of the Pleistocene. Climatic change and human predation have also been discussed as possible causes of the extinction.
Associations with early human sites
Gomphothere remains are common at South American Paleo-indian sites. Examples include the early human settlement at Monte Verde, Chile, dating to approximately 14,000 years ago, and the Altiplano Cundiboyacense (Tibitó, 11,740 BP) and the Valle del Magdalena of Colombia. In 2011, remains dating between 10,600 and 11,600 years ago were also found in the El Fin del Mundo (End of the World) site in Sonora, Mexico's Clovis location – the first time such an association was found in a northern part of the continent where gomphotheres had been thought to have gone extinct 30,000 years ago. In July 2014, it was announced that the "position and proximity of Clovis weapon fragments relative to the gomphothere bones at the site suggest that humans did in fact kill the two animals there. Of the seven Clovis points found at the site, four were in place among the bones, including one with bone and teeth fragments above and below. The other three points had clearly eroded away from the bone bed and were found scattered nearby."
- Shoshani, Jeheskel; Pascal Tassy (2005). "Advances in proboscidean taxonomy & classification, anatomy & physiology, and ecology & behavior". Quaternary International. 126-128: 5–20. Bibcode:2005QuInt.126....5S. doi:10.1016/j.quaint.2004.04.011.
- Rafael O. Labarca and Patrick G. Lopez, "Los mamíferos finipleistocénicos de la Formación Quebrada Quereo (IV Región-Chile): biogeografía, bioestratigrafía e inferencias paleoambientales", Mastozoología Neotropical, Volume 13, Number 1, (June 2006), 89-101
- Rodríguez-Flórez, Carlos David; Ernesto León Rodríguez-Flórez; Carlos Armando Rodríguez (2009). "Revision of Pleistocenic Gomphotheriidae Fauna in Colombia and case report in the Department of Valle Del Cauca" (PDF). Scientific Bulletin. Museum Center - Natural History Museum. 13 (2): 78–85. Retrieved 2010-11-09.
- Graham, R. W. (2001). "Late Quaternary Biogeography and Extinction of Proboscideans in North America" (PDF). In Cavarretta, G.; Gioia, P.; Mussi, M.; et al. The World of Elephants (La Terra degli Elefanti) - Proceedings of the 1st International Congress (Atti del 1º Congresso Internazionale), Rome October 16-20 2001. Rome: Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche. pp. 707–709. ISBN 88-8080-025-6. Retrieved 2012-10-31.
- Palmer, D., ed. (1999). The Marshall Illustrated Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals. London: Marshall Editions. pp. 239–242. ISBN 1-84028-152-9.
- J. Shoshani and P. Tassy. 2005. Advances in proboscidean taxonomy & classification, anatomy & physiology, and ecology & behavior. Quaternary International 126-128:5-20
- Shi-Qi Wang; Tao Deng; Jie Ye; Wen He; Shan-Qin Chen (2016). Morphological and ecological diversity of Amebelodontidae (Proboscidea, Mammalia) revealed by a Miocene fossil accumulation of an upper-tuskless proboscidean. Journal of Systematic Palaeontology. Online edition. doi:10.1080/14772019.2016.1208687.
- Mothé, Dimila; Ferretti, Marco P.; Avilla, Leonardo S. (12 January 2016). "The Dance of Tusks: Rediscovery of Lower Incisors in the Pan-American Proboscidean Cuvieronius hyodon Revises Incisor Evolution in Elephantimorpha". PLOS ONE. Bibcode:2016PLoSO..1147009M. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0147009. Retrieved 4 May 2017.
- Asevedo, Lidiane; Winck, Gisele R.; Mothe, Dimila; Avilla,Leonardo S. (2012) "Ancient Diet of the Pleistocene Gomphothere Notiomastodon platensis (Mammalia, Proboscidea, Gomphotheriidae) from Lowland Mid-latitudes of South America: Stereomicrowear and Tooth Calculus Analyses Combined" Quaternary International 255 45-52
- Alberdi, Maria Teresa; Prado, José Luis; Perea, Daniel; Ubilla, Martin (2007) "Stegomastodon waringi (Mammalia, Proboscidea) from the Late Pleistocene of northeastern Uruguay" Neues Jahrbuch Für Geologie Und Paläontologie - Abhandlungen 243.2 179-189
- Sanchez, Begoña; Prado, José Luis; Alberdi, Maria Teresa (2004) "Feeding ecology, dispersal, and extinction of South American pleistocene gomphotheres (Gomphotheriidae, Proboscidea)" Paleobiology 30.1 146-161
- "Extinction of a gomphothere population from Southeastern Brazil: Taphonomic, paleoecological and chronological remarks", Quaternary International, Cristina Bertoni-Machado 2012) (abstract). Retrieved 16 June 2014.
- Prado, J. L.; Alberdi, M. T.; Azanza, B.; Sánchez, B.; Frassinetti, D. (2005). "The Pleistocene Gomphotheriidae (Proboscidea) from South America". Quaternary International. 126-128: 21–30. Bibcode:2005QuInt.126...21P. doi:10.1016/j.quaint.2004.04.012.
- "Finding would reveal contact between humans and gomphotheres in North America", Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, 24 January 2011. Retrieved 26 May 2014.
- University of Arizona, "Bones of elephant ancestor unearthed: Meet the gomphothere" Science Daily, 14 July 2014. Retrieved 31 August 2018.
- "Buried Treasure in the Sierra Nevada Foothills" (article about a fossil exhibit at the Sierra College Natural History Museum) on the Sierra College website
- Gomphothere description including images on the Sierra College website
- "King Tusk" Gomphothere Excavation, photos from the excavation of a Gomphothere skeleton on the Sierra College website
- The Gomphotheriidae, from the University of California Museum of Paleontology website