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The tar pits of Rancho La Brea are a unique window onto the biology and ecology of the terminal Pleistocene in southern California. In this study we capitalize on recent advances in understanding of La Brea tar pit chronology to perform the first morphometric study of crania of the dire wolf, Canis dirus, over time. We first present new data on tooth fracture and wear from pits dated older than heretofore analyzed, and demonstrate that fracture and wear events, and the increased competition and heightened carcass utilization they are thought to represent, were of varying intensity across the sampled time intervals. Skull size, and by extension body size, is shown to differ significantly among pits at La Brea, with the strongest single observation being reduction in body size at the last glacial maximum. Skull size variation is shown to be a result of both ontogenetic and evolutionary factors, neither of which is congruent with a temporal version of Bergmann’s rule. Skull shape difference among the pits is also significant, with shape variability attributable to both neotenic effects in populations with high breakage and wear, and evolutionary changes possibly due to climate change. Testing of this hypothesis requires better accuracy and precision in La Brea carbon data, a program that is within the reach of current AMS dating technology.

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Creative Commons Copyright Society for Vertebrate Paleontology, April 2014.

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O'Keefe, F. Robin, Binder, Wendy J., Frost, Stephen R., Sadlier, Rudyard W., and Van Valkenburgh, Blaire 2014. Cranial morphometrics of the dire wolf, Canis dirus, at Rancho La Brea: temporal variability and its links to nutrient stress and climate. Palaeontologia Electronica Vol. 17, Issue 1;17A; 24p;

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