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Long-period astronomical forcing of mammal turnover


Mammals are among the fastest-radiating groups, being characterized by a mean species lifespan of the order of 2.5 million years (Myr)1,2. The basis for this characteristic timescale of origination, extinction and turnover is not well understood. Various studies have invoked climate change to explain mammalian species turnover3,4, but other studies have either challenged or only partly confirmed the climate–turnover hypothesis5,6,7. Here we use an exceptionally long (24.5–2.5 Myr ago), dense, and well-dated terrestrial record of rodent lineages from central Spain, and show the existence of turnover cycles with periods of 2.4–2.5 and 1.0 Myr. We link these cycles to low-frequency modulations of Milankovitch oscillations8, and show that pulses of turnover occur at minima of the 2.37-Myr eccentricity cycle and nodes of the 1.2-Myr obliquity cycle. Because obliquity nodes and eccentricity minima are associated with ice sheet expansion and cooling and affect regional precipitation, we infer that long-period astronomical climate forcing is a major determinant of species turnover in small mammals and probably other groups as well.

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Figure 1: Lineage turnover, diversity and mean lifespan per 0.1 Myr.
Figure 3: Rodent turnover, astronomical parameters and climate.
Figure 2: Individual and cross spectra of turnover, eccentricity and obliquity.


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We thank the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research and the Communidad Autónoma de Madrid for financial support, and the Ministerio de Educacion y Ciencia (Madrid), the Diputacion General de Aragón (Zaragoza), and the Fundación Conjunto Paleontológico (Dinópolis, Teruel) for their support with regard to fieldwork campaigns. We also thank H. Abels, H. Dijkstra, D. Heslop, B. Engesser, R. Hengeveld, K. Kuiper, D. Mayhew, E. Sanz, E. Tuenter and G. J. Weltje for discussions and help. We thank I. Lacomba for supplying unpublished data and we are grateful to the late R. Daams for his important contribution to the Central Spanish rodent database.

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Correspondence to Jan A. van Dam.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Notes

This file contains information on age calibrations, treatment of age uncertainties and taxonomy, and supplementary references. (PDF 69 kb)

Supplementary Tables

This file contains Supplementary Table 1 with locality information, and Supplementary Table 2 with correlations between marine δ18O events, orbital extremes and rodent turnover peaks. (PDF 45 kb)

Supplementary Figures

This file contains Supplementary Figures 1–7. (PDF 227 kb)

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van Dam, J., Abdul Aziz, H., Ángeles Álvarez Sierra, M. et al. Long-period astronomical forcing of mammal turnover. Nature 443, 687–691 (2006).

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