The Evolution of the Cenozoic Terrestrial Mammalian Predator Guild in South America: Competition or Replacement?

Abstract

South America was isolated from other continents during most of the Cenozoic, developing a singular mammalian fauna. In contrast to North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa, up to the late Neogene, the carnivore adaptive zone in South America was populated by crocodiles (Sebecidae), large snakes (Madtsoiidae), large birds (Phorusrhacidae), and metatherian mammals (Sparassodonta). Sparassodonta were varied and comprised a wide range of body masses (≈ 2–50 kg) and food habits. Their diversity decreased towards the late Miocene (Huayquerian Stage/Age) and the group became extinct in the “middle” Pliocene (≈ 3 Ma, Chapadmalalan Stage/Age). Several authors have suggested that the cause of this decline and extinction was the ingression of carnivorans to South America (about 6–7 Ma ago), because they competed with the Sparassodonta; although this hypothesis has been criticized in recent years. With the intention of testing the hypothesis of “competitive displacement,” we review the fossil record of South American Sparassodonta and Carnivora, collect data about diversity, estimate size and diet, and determine first and last appearances. The diversity of Sparassodonta is low relative to that of Carnivora throughout the Cenozoic with the early Miocene (Santacrucian Stage/Age) showing the greatest diversity with 11 species. In the late Miocene-middle Pliocene (Huayquerian Stage/Age), the fossil record shows overlap of groups, and the Sparassodonta’s richness curve begins to decline with the first record of Carnivora. Despite this overlap, carnivorans diversity ranged from four or fewer species in the late Miocene-Pliocene to a peak of around 20 species in the early Pleistocene (Ensenadan Stage/Age). Carnivora was initially represented by small-sized, omnivorous species, with large omnivores first appearing in the Chapadmalalan Stage/Age. Over this period, Sparassodonta was represented by large and small hypercarnivores and a single large omnivorous species. From this review of the fossil record, it is suggested that factors other than competitive displacement may have caused the extinction of the Sparassodonta.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to thank several curators and staff who helped during collection visits: David Flores, Alejandro Kramarz, Marcelo Reguero, Lucas Pomi, Itatí Olivares, M. Trindade, Diego Verzi, Alejandro Dondas, Richard Tedford, John Flynn, Bruce MacFadden, Richard Hulbert, Bill Simpson, Ross MacPhee, Bruce Patterson, Ascanio Rincón, Judy Galkin, Min-Tho Schulenberg, William Stanley, Linda Gordon, Matthew Carrano, Sumru Arincali, Tom Amorosi, Luciano Prates, Mariano Bonomo, Alfredo Prieto, Guillermo Delia, Amador Rodríguez, Daniel Ibáñez, D. Dias Henriques, Alejandro Salles, and José Luis Carrion. We acknowledge the reviewers: Francisco J. Goin and Darin Croft and the editor John Wible whose suggestions improved the original manuscript. We would also like to thank Tom Amorosi for the help and advice given during the visit of one of us (FJP) to the AMNH. The AMNH, FMNH, FLMNH, and CONICET gave travel grants to FJP that allowed him to visit several USA collections. We thank Garvey Raven and Simon D. Kay for English language assistance. María Amelia Chemisquy helped with Fig. 1. Lucas Pomi, Ulyses Pardiñas, Sergio Vizcaíno, Eduardo Tonni, Francisco Goin, and Leopoldo Soibelzon offered discussions that helped to improve this contribution. This is a contribution to the grants PIP 112 200801 01054 (CONICET) and PICT2007-00428 (Agencia-FONCYT).

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Prevosti, F.J., Forasiepi, A. & Zimicz, N. The Evolution of the Cenozoic Terrestrial Mammalian Predator Guild in South America: Competition or Replacement?. J Mammal Evol 20, 3–21 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10914-011-9175-9

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Keywords

  • Sparassodonta
  • Carnivora
  • Competitive displacement
  • Ecological replacement