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Trends Ecol Evol. 2004 Oct;19(10):516-22.

The rise of birds and mammals: are microevolutionary processes sufficient for macroevolution?

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  • 1Allan Wilson Center for Molecular Ecology and Evolution, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand.


It is a basis of darwinian evolution that the microevolutionary mechanisms that can be studied in the present are sufficient to account for macroevolution. However, this idea needs to be tested explicitly, as highlighted here by the example of the superceding of dinosaurs and pterosaurs by birds and placental mammals that occurred near the Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary approximately 65 million years ago. A major problem for testing the sufficiency of microevolutionary processes is that independent ideas (such as the existence of an extraterrestrial impact, and the extinction of dinosaurs) were linked without the evidence for each idea being evaluated separately. Here, we suggest and discuss five testable models for the times and divergences of modern mammals and birds. Determination of the model that best represents these events will enable the role of microevolutionary mechanisms to be evaluated. The question of the sufficiency of microevolutionary processes for macroevolution is solvable, and available evidence supports an important role for biological processes in the initial decline of dinosaurs and pterosaurs.


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