The Impacts of Cenozoic Climate and Habitat Changes on Small Mammal Diversity of North America
Through the Cenozoic, paleoclimate records show general trends of global cooling and increased aridity, and environments in North America shifted from predominantly forests to more open habitats. Paleobotanical records indicate grasses were present on the continent in the Eocene; however, paleosol and phytolith studies indicate that open habitats did not arise until the late Eocene or even later in the Oligocene. Studies of large mammalian herbivores have documented changes in ecomorphology and community structure through time, revealing that shifts in mammalian morphology occurred millions of years after the environmental changes thought to have triggered them. Smaller mammals, like rodents and lagomorphs, should more closely track climate and habitat changes due to their shorter generation times and smaller ranges, but these animals have received much less study. To examine changes in smaller mammals through time, we have assembled and analyzed an ecomorphological database of all North American rodent and lagomorph species. Analyses of these data found that rodent and lagomorph community structure changed dramatically through the Cenozoic, and shifts in diversity and ecology correspond closely with the timing of habitat changes. Cenozoic rodent and lagomorph species diversity is strongly biased by sampling of localities, but sampling-corrected diversity reveals diversity dynamics that, after an initial density-dependent diversification in the Eocene, track habitat changes and the appearance of new ecological adaptations. As habitats became more open and arid through time, rodent and lagomorph crown heights increased while burrowing, jumping, and cursorial adaptations became more prevalent. Through time, open-habitat specialists were added during periods of diversification, while closed-habitat taxa were disproportionately lost in subsequent diversity declines. While shifts among rodents and lagomorphs parallel changes in ungulate communities, they started millions of years earlier than in larger mammals. This is likely a consequence of the smaller mammal' greater sensitivity to environmental changes and more rapid evolution. These results highlight the importance of examining understudied members of vertebrate faunas for understanding the evolution of terrestrial communities through time.
Samuels, Joshua X.; and Hopkins, Samantha S.B.. 2017. The Impacts of Cenozoic Climate and Habitat Changes on Small Mammal Diversity of North America. Global and Planetary Change. Vol.149 36-52. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gloplacha.2016.12.014 ISSN: 0921-8181