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Common mammals drive the evolutionary increase of hypsodonty in the Neogene


During the past 20 million years, herbivorous mammals of numerous lineages have evolved hypsodont, or high-crowned, cheek teeth. Hypsodonty is informative ecologically because it is well developed in mammals eating fibrous and abrasive foods that are most abundant in open and generally or seasonally dry environments1,2,3,4,5. Here we report that in the Neogene of Europe mammals with the greatest locality coverages showed an increase in hypsodonty. We used a data set of 209 localities to measure whether large mammals occurring in many fossil localities show a similar increase in hypsodonty to mammals occurring in single or few localities. Taxonomic and morphological groupings show a low average hypsodonty in the early Miocene epoch. From the middle Miocene onwards, only the hypsodonty of commonly found mammals shows a marked increase. Therefore, in the drying Europe of the late Miocene, only increasingly hypsodont mammals may have been able to expand their share of habitats and food resources. These results suggest that the relatively small number of species known from multiple localities are palaeoecologically informative by themselves, irrespective of the rest of the known species.

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Figure 1: The nine locality intervals and number of localities (in parenthesis) analysed.
Figure 2: Increase in hypsodonty is limited to common groups (present at over 25 per cent of localities within MN interval).


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We thank A. D. Barnosky, J. Damuth, I. Hanski, J. P. Hunter and P. C. Wright for discussions and advice on this work, which was supported by the Academy of Finland.

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Correspondence to Jukka Jernvall or Mikael Fortelius.

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Jernvall, J., Fortelius, M. Common mammals drive the evolutionary increase of hypsodonty in the Neogene. Nature 417, 538–540 (2002).

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