Skip to main content
Email Print Share

Savanna Landscape, Kenya (Image 2)

Giraffes roam in a wooded grassland savanna in Kenya's Nakuru National Park

Giraffes roam in a wooded grassland savanna in Kenya's Nakuru National Park. The savanna grades into the woodland in the background. A University of Utah (U)-led study concluded that savannas were predominate in East Africa's landscape during some 6 million years of evolution of apes, human ancestors and humans.

Researchers working on the study developed a new method that uses fossil soils to determine the amount of tree cover that existed in prehistoric landscapes. The new method was developed by correlating carbon isotope ratios in 3,000 modern soil samples with satellite photos of tree and vegetation cover at 75 tropical sites worldwide--with half in Africa--and representing everything from closed forest to open grassland. This allowed the scientists to determine the percentage of tree and woody shrub cover millions of years ago based on carbon isotope ratios in fossil soils known as paleosols.

"We've been able to quantify how much shade was available in the geological past," says Thure Cerling, a U distinguished professor of geology and geophysics, and biology, "and it shows there have been open habitats for all of the last 6 million years in the environments in eastern Africa where some of the most significant early human fossils were found."

The research was supported by the National Science Foundation and the Leakey Foundation. To learn more, see the U news story Six million years of savanna. [Research supported by NSF grants BCS 06-21542, EAR 06-17010, EAR 09-37819 and BCS 03-21893.] (Date of Image: July 2007) [Image 2 of 2 related images. Back to Image 1.]

Credit: Naomi E. Levin, Johns Hopkins University
See other images like this in NSF's Science360 for iPad app. To download the Science360 for iPad application for free, visit the Apple iTunes store.

General Restrictions:
Images and other media in the National Science Foundation Multimedia Gallery are available for use in print and electronic material by NSF employees, members of the media, university staff, teachers and the general public. All media in the gallery are intended for personal, educational and nonprofit/non-commercial use only.

Images credited to the National Science Foundation, a federal agency, are in the public domain. The images were created by employees of the United States Government as part of their official duties or prepared by contractors as "works for hire" for NSF. You may freely use NSF-credited images and, at your discretion, credit NSF with a "Courtesy: National Science Foundation" notation. Additional information about general usage can be found in Conditions.

Also Available:
Download the high-resolution JPG version of the image. (2.2 MB)

Use your mouse to right-click (Mac users may need to Ctrl-click) the link above and choose the option that will save the file or target to your computer.