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Naturwissenschaften. 2003 Mar;90(3):131-5. Epub 2003 Feb 7.

Extinction and re-evolution of similar adaptive types (ecomorphs) in Cenozoic North American ungulates and carnivores reflect van der Hammen's cycles.

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Division of Science, Chatham College, Woodland Rd, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15232, USA.


Numerous patterns in periodicity (e.g., climate, extinction, and sedimentary cycles) and evolutionary change (e.g., chronofaunas and coordinated stasis) have been described based on aspects of the geologic record. Recently, convergent occurrences of faunal types or "repeating faunas" have received attention, but a highly specific, iterative pattern was first reported over 40 years ago. In the late 1950s, van der Hammen described climatic/floral cycles on the order of six million years based on a succession of A, B, and C pollen community types in South America. These A-B-C cycles are also seen in the replacement pattern of particular carnivore and ungulate adaptive types in Cenozoic North America as reported by Martin in the 1980s. For example, in the last 36 million years, there were four iterations of a sabertooth cat ecomorph independently evolving, dominating the niche through an A-B-C cycle, and then going extinct. Here we show further support for the existence of these cycles in the dominance turnover in hippo and dog ecomorphs in the North American Cenozoic. Shared patterns of extinction and re-evolution of adaptive types among plants and mammals across two continents suggest a global mechanism, which appears to be climatic change. Iterative climatic cycles of various scales may form a predictive framework for understanding fundamental patterns in the geologic record, such as radiations, extinction, rates of change, convergence, and sedimentary cycles.

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