Papers in the Biological Sciences


Date of this Version



The University of Chicago 2020.


Accepted in The American Naturalist, 2020


Human-mediated species invasion and climate change are leading to global extinctions and are predicted to result in the loss of important axes of phylogenetic and functional diversity. However, the long-term robustness of modern communities to invasion is unknown, given the limited timescales over which they can be studied. Using the fossil record of the Paleocene- Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM; ~ 56 Ma) in North America, we evaluate mammalian community-level response to a rapid global warming event (5° to 8°C) and invasion by three Eurasian mammalian orders and by species undergoing northward range shifts. We assembled a database of 144 species body sizes and created a time-scaled composite phylogeny. We calculated the phylogenetic and functional diversity of all communities before, during, and after the PETM. Despite increases in the phylogenetic diversity of the regional species pool, phylogenetic diversity of mammalian communities remained relatively unchanged, a pattern that is invariant to the tree dating method, uncertainty in tree topology, and resolution. Similarly, body size dispersion and the degree of spatial taxonomic turnover of communities remained similar across the PETM. We suggest that invasion by new taxa had little impact on Paleocene- Eocene mammal communities because niches were not saturated. Our findings are consistent with the numerous studies of modern communities that record little change in community-scale richness despite turnover in taxonomic composition during invasion. What remains unknown is whether long-term robustness to biotic and abiotic perturbation are retained by modern communities given global anthropogenic landscape modification.

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