Papers in the Biological Sciences


Date of this Version



Saarinen JJ et al. 2014 Patterns of maximum body size evolution in Cenozoic land mammals: eco-evolutionary processes and abiotic forcing. Proc. R. Soc. B 281: 20132049.


Copyright 2014 The Authors. Published by the Royal Society. Used by permission.


There is accumulating evidence that macroevolutionary patterns of mammal evolution during the Cenozoic follow similar trajectories on different continents. This would suggest that such patterns are strongly determined by global abiotic factors, such as climate, or by basic eco-evolutionary processes such as filling of niches by specialization. The similarity of pattern would be expected to extend to the history of individual clades. Here, we investigate the temporal distribution of maximum size observed within individual orders globally and on separate continents. While the maximum size of individual orders of large land mammals show differences and comprise several families, the times at which orders reach their maximum size over time show strong congruence, peaking in the Middle Eocene, the Oligocene and the Plio-Pleistocene. The Eocene peak occurs when global temperature and land mammal diversity are high and is best explained as a result of niche expansion rather than abiotic forcing. Since the Eocene, there is a significant correlation between maximum size frequency and global temperature proxy. The Oligocene peak is not statistically significant and may in part be due to sampling issues. The peak in the Plio-Pleistocene occurs when global temperature and land mammal diversity are low, it is statistically the most robust one and it is best explained by global cooling. We conclude that the macroevolutionary patterns observed are a result of the interplay between eco-evolutionary processes and abiotic forcing.