Global climate change and North American mammalian evolution

J. Alroy, P. L. Koch, J. C. Zachos

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We compare refined data sets for Atlantic benthic foraminiferal oxygen isotope ratios and for North American mammalian diversity, faunal turnover, and body mass distributions. Each data set spans the late Paleocene through Pleistocene and has temporal resolution of 1.0 m.y.; the mammal data are restricted to western North America. We use the isotope data to compute five separate time series: oxygen isotope ratios at the midpoint of each 1.0-m.y. bin; changes in these ratios across bins; absolute values of these changes (=isotopic volatility); standard deviations of multiple isotope measurements within each bin; and standard deviations that have been detrended and corrected for serial correlation. For the mammals, we compute 12 different variables: standing diversity at the start of each bin; per-lineage origination and extinction rates; total turnover; net diversification; the absolute value of net diversification (=diversification volatility); change in proportional representation of major orders, as measured by a simple index and by a G-statistic; and the mean, standard deviation, skewness, and kurtosis of body mass. Simple and liberal statistical analyses fail to show any consistent relationship between any two isotope and mammalian time series, other than some unavoidable correlations between a few untransformed, highly autocorrelated time series like the raw isotope and mean body mass curves. Standard methods of detrending and differencing remove these correlations. Some of the major climate shifts indicated by oxygen isotope records do correspond to major ecological and evolutionary transitions in the mammalian biota, but the nature of these correspondences is unpredictable, and several other such transitions occur at times of relatively little global climate change. We conclude that given currently available climate records, we cannot show that the impact of climate change on the broad patterns of mammalian evolution involves linear forcings; instead, we see only the relatively unpredictable effects of a few major events. Over the scale of the whole Cenozoic, intrinsic, biotic factors like logistic diversity dynamics and within-lineage evolutionary trends seem to be far more important.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)259-288
Number of pages30
Issue number4 SUPPL.
Publication statusPublished - 2000
Externally publishedYes

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    Alroy, J., Koch, P. L., & Zachos, J. C. (2000). Global climate change and North American mammalian evolution. Paleobiology, 26(4 SUPPL.), 259-288.