Journal of Mammalian Evolution

, Volume 3, Issue 2, pp 121–161

Dispersal, vicariance, and the Late Cretaceous to early tertiary land mammal biogeography from South America to Australia

  • Michael O. Woodburne
  • Judd A. Case

DOI: 10.1007/BF01454359

Cite this article as:
Woodburne, M.O. & Case, J.A. J Mammal Evol (1996) 3: 121. doi:10.1007/BF01454359


A review of paleontological, phyletic, geophysical, and climatic evidence leads to a new scenario of land mammal dispersal among South America, Antarctica, and Australia in the Late Cretaceous to early Tertiary epochs. New fossil land vertebrate material has been recovered from all three continents in recent years. As regards Gondwana, the present evidence suggests that monotreme mammals and ratite birds are of Mesozoic origin, based on both geochronological and phyletic grounds. The occurrence of monotremes in the early Paleocene (ca. 62 Ma) faunas of Patagonia and of ratites in late Eocene (ca. 41-37 m.y.) faunas of Seymour Island (Antarctic Peninsula) probably is an artifact of a much older and widespread Gondwana distribution prior to the Late Cretaceous Epoch. Except for South American microbiotheres being australidelphians, marsupial faunas of South America and Australia still are fundamentally disjunct. New material from Seymour Island (Microbiotheriidae) indicates the presence there of a derived taxon that resides in a group that is the sister taxon of most Australian marsupials. There is no compelling evidence that dispersal between Antarctica and Australia was as recent as ca. 41 Ma or later. In fact, the derived marsupial and placental land mammal fauna of Seymour Island shows its greatest affinity with Patagonian forms of Casamayoran age (ca. 51–54 m.y.). This suggests an earlier dispersal of more plesiomorphic marsupials from Patagonia to Australia via Antarctica, and vicariant disjunction subsequently. This is consistent with geophysical evidence that the South Tasman Rise was submerged by 64 Ma and with geological evidence that a shallow water marine barrier was present from then onward. The scenario above is consistent with molecular evidence suggesting that australidelphian bandicoots, dasyurids, and diprotodontians were distinct and present in Australia at least as early as the 63-Ma-old australidelphian microbiotheres and the ancient but not basal australidelphian,Andinodelphys, in the Tiupampa Fauna of Bolivia. Land mammal dispersal to Australia typically has been considered to be at a low level of probability (e.g., by sweepstakes dispersal). This study suggests that the marsupial colonizers of Australia included already recognizable members of the Peramelina, Dasyuromorphia, and Diprotodontia, at least, and entered via a filter route rather than by a sweepstakes dispersal.

Key Words

Late Cretaceous Gondwana marsupial dispersal vicariance multidisciplinary data 

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael O. Woodburne
    • 1
  • Judd A. Case
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Earth SciencesUniversity of CaliforniaRiverside
  2. 2.Department of BiologySt. Mary's CollegeMoraga

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