Journal of Mammalian Evolution

, Volume 21, Issue 1, pp 1–73 | Cite as

Paleogene Land Mammal Faunas of South America; a Response to Global Climatic Changes and Indigenous Floral Diversity

  • Michael O. WoodburneEmail author
  • Francisco J. Goin
  • Mariano Bond
  • Alfredo A. Carlini
  • Javier N. Gelfo
  • Guillermo M. López
  • A. Iglesias
  • Ana N. Zimicz
Original Paper


An appraisal of Paleogene floral and land mammal faunal dynamics in South America suggests that both biotic elements responded at rate and extent generally comparable to that portrayed by the global climate pattern of the interval. A major difference in the South American record is the initial as well as subsequent much greater diversity of both Neotropical and Austral floras relative to North American counterparts. Conversely, the concurrent mammal faunas in South America did not match, much less exceed, the diversity seen to the north. It appears unlikely that this difference is solely due to the virtual absence of immigrants subsequent to the initial dispersal of mammals to South America, and cannot be explained solely by the different collecting histories of the two regions. Possible roles played by non-mammalian vertebrates in niche exploitation remain to be explored.

The Paleogene floras of Patagonia and Chile show a climatic pattern that approximates that of North America, with an increase in both Mean Annual Temperature (MAT) and Mean Annual Precipitation (MAP) from the Paleocene into the Early Eocene Climatic Optimum (EECO), although the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) is not recognized in the available data set. Post-EECO temperatures declined in both regions, but more so in the north than the south, which also retained a higher rate of precipitation.

The South American Paleogene mammal faunas developed gradual, but distinct, changes in composition and diversity as the EECO was approached, but actually declined somewhat during its peak, contrary to the record in North America. At about 40 Ma, a post-EECO decline was recovered in both hemispheres, but the South American record achieved its greatest diversity then, rather than at the peak of the EECO as in the north. This post-EECO faunal turnover apparently was a response to the changing conditions when global climate was deteriorating toward the Oligocene. Under the progressively more temperate to seasonally arid conditions in South America, this turnover reflected a major change from the more archaic, and more tropical to subtropical-adapted mammals, to the beginning of the ultimately modern South American fauna, achieved completely by the Eocene-Oligocene transition. Interestingly, hypsodonty was achieved by South American cursorial mammals about 15–20 m.y. earlier than in North America. In addition to being composed of essentially different groups of mammals, those of the South American continent seem to have responded to the climatic changes associated with the ECCO and subsequent conditions in a pattern that was initially comparable to, but subsequently different from, their North American counterparts.


South America Biotic change Evolution Paleontology Early Cenozoic 



It is with great pleasure and gratitude that we acknowledge the assistance of Dr. Peter Wilf and Dr. Viviana Barreda in helping with paleobotanical matters; Dr. Silvio Casadio aided in guiding Woodburne to relevant geological literature; and Drs. Darin Croft, Christine Janis, and Jussi Eronen provided valuable insights regarding mammalian ecofacies. These individuals do not necessarily agree with the interpretations presented here. Many thanks are offered to Marcela Tomeo for the design of several of the figures that illustrate this work. Two anonymous reviewers made valuable comments that improved the manuscript. Wilf and Iglesias gratefully acknowledge support from NSF grant DEB 0919071. F. Goin, M. Bond, A. Carlini, J. Gelfo, A. Iglesias, and N. Zimicz (PIP 0361) thank the Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (CONICET, Argentina) for its support.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael O. Woodburne
    • 1
    Email author
  • Francisco J. Goin
    • 2
  • Mariano Bond
    • 2
  • Alfredo A. Carlini
    • 2
  • Javier N. Gelfo
    • 2
  • Guillermo M. López
    • 2
    • 4
  • A. Iglesias
    • 3
  • Ana N. Zimicz
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Geology, Museum of Northern ArizonaFlagstaffUSA
  2. 2.División Paleontología Vertebrados, Museo de La Plata, Paseo del Bosque s/n, CONICET, ArgentinaLa PlataArgentina
  3. 3.División Paleobotánica, Museo de La Plata, Paseo del Bosque s/n, CONICET, ArgentinaLa PlataArgentina
  4. 4.División Paleontología Vertebrados, Museo de La Plata, Paseo del Bosque s/nLa PlataArgentina

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