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North American mammalian diversity and Eocene–Oligocene extinctions

  • Donald R. Prothero (a1)


Diversity and faunal turnover of North American land mammals are calibrated against the magnetic polarity time scale for million-year intervals for the latest Eocene through late Oligocene. A major, gradual Late Eocene decline in diversity, caused mostly by an extended period of extinction of archaic forms, seems to be related to the worldwide crisis known as the “Terminal Eocene Event.” Along with other evidence of gradual changes in deep-sea microfossils, this evidence argues against a catastrophic explanation for late Eocene extinctions.

Faunal stability characterized the rest of the Oligocene except for a wave of extinctions in the mid-Oligocene (Chadronian-Orellan boundary, about 32.4 ma). This mid-Oligocene event is sudden and severe, occurring in less than 200,000 yr, based on estimates from sedimentation rates calibrated from magnetic polarity interval boundaries. The mid-Oligocene event is found in many paleoclimatic records, but not in all of them. It may be related to the completion of the Circum-Antarctic Current and to increased mid-Oligocene glaciation.



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