American Society of Naturalists

A membership society whose goal is to advance and to diffuse knowledge of organic evolution and other broad biological principles so as to enhance the conceptual unification of the biological sciences.

“Mammal community structure through the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum”

Posted on

Danielle Fraser and S. Kathleen Lyons (Sep 2020)

Despite increasing richness due to invasion and rapid climate change, PETM mammal community structure was unchanged

Read the Article (Just Accepted)


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.