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An Arctic mammal fauna from the Early Pliocene of North America


A peat deposit on Ellesmere Island1, Nunavut, Canada, allows a unique glimpse of the Early Pliocene terrestrial biota north of the Arctic Circle. The peat accumulated in a beaver pond surrounded by boreal larch forest near regional tree line2 in coastal hills close to the Arctic Ocean. The ecological affinities of the plant and beetle remains3 contained in the peat indicate that winter temperatures on Ellesmere Island were nearly 15 °C higher and summer temperatures 10 °C higher than they are today. Here we show that the mammalian remains buried in the peat represent mainly taxa of Eurasiatic zoogeographic and phyletic affinities, including the first North American occurrence of a meline badger (Arctomeles). This deposit contains direct evidence of the composition of an Early Pliocene (4–5 million years ago) arctic mammalian fauna during an active period of interchange between Asia and North America.

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Figure 1: Numbered black triangles indicate sites producing Arctomeles species: (1) A. sotnikovae sp. nov., Ellesmere Island, Canada; (2) A. gennevauxi, Montpellier, France; (3) A. pliocaenicus (genotype), Weze, Poland; (4) A. ferus, Odessa, Ukraine; (5) A. suillus, Shamar, Mongolia; (6) A. suillus, Udunga, Transbaykalia; (7) A. suillus, Yushe, China.
Figure 2: Arctomeles sotnikovae sp. nov.

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C.R.H. is grateful to J. G. Fyles, who discovered the Beaver Pond site in 1961 and the first vertebrate remains in 1988, for introducing him to the site in 1992, and to J. S. Tener and C. C. Kennedy for field assistance. The Canadian Museum of Nature and the Polar Continental Shelf Project provided support for field work. R.H.T. thanks E. Heck for graphics and A. Lora for manuscript preparation.

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Correspondence to Richard H. Tedford.

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Tedford, R., Harington, C. An Arctic mammal fauna from the Early Pliocene of North America. Nature 425, 388–390 (2003).

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