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Keywords:

  • Grassland;
  • human evolution;
  • local enhancement;
  • meat eating;
  • vultures;
  • woodland

It has been argued that endurance running ability may have been important in hominin evolution, giving hominins an enhanced ability to scavenge by allowing them to reach carcasses before other terrestrial vertebrate scavengers. This would have allowed them to exploit the carcass before eventually surrendering it on the arrival of potentially dangerous large terrestrial scavengers. Here, we use a simple spatial model to evaluate the ability of competitors to hominin scavengers to find carcasses. We argue that both hominin and nonhominin terrestrial scavengers would often first have been alerted to available carcasses by overflying aerial scavengers. Our model estimates that nonhominin scavengers will generally be able to reach the carcass within 30 min of detecting a plume of vultures above a nearby carcass. We argue that endurance running over periods greater than 30 min would not have provided a selective advantage to early hominins through increased scavenging opportunities. However, shorter distance running may have been selected, particularly if hominins could defend or usurp carcasses from other mammalian scavengers.