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Journal of Mammalian Evolution

, Volume 14, Issue 2, pp 75–137 | Cite as

The Gondwanan and South American Episodes: Two Major and Unrelated Moments in the History of the South American Mammals

  • Rosendo Pascual
  • Edgardo Ortiz-Jaureguizar
Original Paper

Abstract

The first steps in the history of South American mammals took place ca. 130 Ma., when the South American plate, still connected to the Antarctic Peninsula, began to drift away from the African-Indian plate. Most of the Mesozoic history of South American mammals is still unknown, and we only have a few enigmatic taxa (i.e., a Jurassic Australosphenida and an Early Cretaceous Prototribosphenida) that pose more evolutionary and biogeographic questions than answers. The best-known Mesozoic, South American land-mammal fossils are from Late Cretaceous Patagonian beds. These fossils represent the last survivors of non- and pre-tribosphenic Pangaean lineages, all of them with varying endemic features: some with few advanced features (e.g., ?Eutriconodonta and “Symmetrodonta”), some very diversified as endemic groups (e.g., ?Docodonta Reigitheriidae), and others representing vicariant types of well known Laurasian Mesozoic lineages (e.g., Gondwanatheria as vicariant of Multituberculata). These endemic mammals lived as relicts (although advanced) of pangeic lineages when a primordial South American continent was still connected to the Antarctic Peninsula and, at the northern extreme, near the North American Plate. By the beginning of the Late Cretaceous, the volcanic and diastrophic processes that finally led to the differentiation of the Caribbean region and Central America built up transient geographic connections that permitted the initiation of an overland inter-American exchange that included, for example, dinosaurian titanosaurs from South America and hadrosaurs from North America. The immigration of other vertebrates followed the same route, for example, polydolopimorphian marsupials. These marsupials were assumed to have differentiated in South America prior to new discoveries from the North American Late Cretaceous. The complete extinction of endemic South American Mesozoic mammals by the Late Cretaceous-Early Paleocene, and the subsequent and in part coetaneous immigration of North American therians, respectively, represent two major moments in the history of South American mammals: a Gondwanan Episode and a South American Episode. The Gondwanan Episode was characterized by non- and pre-tribosphenic mammal lineages that descended from the Pangeic South American stage (but already with a pronounced Gondwanan accent, and wholly extinguished during the Late Cretaceous-Early Paleocene span). The South American Episode, in turn, was characterized only by therian mammals, mostly emigrated from the North American continent and already with a South American accent obtained through isolation. The southernmost extreme of South America (Patagonia) remained connected to the present Antarctic Peninsula at least up until about 30 Ma., and both provided the substratum where the primordial cladogenesis of “South American” mammals occurred. The resulting cladogenesis of South American therian mammals followed Gould's motto: early experimentation, later standardization. That is to say, early cladogenesis engendered a great variety of taxa with scarce morphological differentiation. After this early cladogenesis (Late Eocene-Early Oligocene), the variety of taxa became reduced, but each lineage became clearly recognizable distinctive by a constant morphologic pattern. At the same time, those mammals that underwent the “early experimentation” were part of communities dominated by archaic lineages (e.g., brachydont types among the native “ungulates”), whereas the subsequent communities were dominated by mammals of markedly “modern” stamp (e.g., protohypsodont types among the native “ungulates”). The Gondwanan and South American Episodes were separated by a critical latest Cretaceous-earliest Paleocene hiatus, it is as unknown as it is important in which South American land-mammal communities must have experienced extinction of the Gondwanan mammals and the arrival and radiation of the North American marsupials and placentals (with the probable exception of the xenarthrans, whose biogeographic origin is still unclear).

Keywords

Mesozoic Cenozoic Gondwana South America Patagonia Antarctica Paleobiogeography Paleoecology 

Notes

Acknowledgments

We thank J. L. Hartenberger (past editor of the Journal of Mammalian Evolution), who in 2002 invited us to write and submit a paper about the “state of the art” on the evolution and biogeography of South American mammals during the Mesozoic and Early Cenozoic. We extend our acknowledgment to M. Springer, who encouraged us to finish the manuscript. Several aspects of this paper were discussed with J. Goin, A. Carlini and M. Bond, who provided valuable comments. We also thank P. Posadas for her helpful critical review of the manuscript. All figures in this paper were drawn by A. Viñas, except for Fig. 1, which was made by A. Carlini. Special thank to L. H. Zampatti, whose effective assistance permitted the composition of the figures that illustrate this paper. This paper was financed by grants of CONICET (PIP 4706/96) to RP and the ANPCyT (PICT04 26298) and CONICET (PIP 02755) to EOJ. Both authors belong to the career of the Scientific Researcher of the CONICET, whose continuous support we thank.

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Facultad de Ciencias Naturales y MuseoLa PlataArgentina
  2. 2.LASBE (Laboratorio de Sistemática y Biología Evolutiva)Facultad de Ciencias Naturales y MuseoLa PlataArgentina

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