Palaeoecology

  • Article
    | Open Access

    The linkage between temperature change and extinction rates in the fossil record is well-known qualitatively but little explored quantitatively. Here the authors investigate the relationship of marine animal extinctions with rate and magnitude of temperature change across the last 450 million years, and identify thresholds in climate change linked to mass extinctions.

    • Haijun Song
    • , David B. Kemp
    •  & Xu Dai
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Summed probability distributions of radiocarbon dates can be used to estimate past demography, but methods to test for associations with environmental change are lacking. Here, DiNapoli et al. propose an approach using Approximate Bayesian Computation and illustrate it in a case study of Rapa Nui.

    • Robert J. DiNapoli
    • , Enrico R. Crema
    •  & Terry L. Hunt
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Long-term sedimentary ancient DNA (sedaDNA) records can help inform how biodiversity will likely respond to future climate change. Here, Liu et al. reconstruct plant diversity at the margin of the Tibetan Plateau over the last ~18,000 years using sedaDNA and use this record to predict future diversity change.

    • Sisi Liu
    • , Stefan Kruse
    •  & Ulrike Herzschuh
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Terrestrial ecosystems underwent major restructuring through the early Mesozoic, culminating in dinosaur-dominated faunas. Here Singh et al. use jaw morphology to classify tetrapod herbivores into distinct feeding groups and show that their success was shaped by environmental changes and competitive constraints.

    • Suresh A. Singh
    • , Armin Elsler
    •  & Michael J. Benton
  • Article
    | Open Access

    There are a number of competing explanations for the late Pleistocene extinction of many North American megafauna species. Here, the authors apply a Bayesian regression approach that finds greater concordance between megafaunal declines and climate change than with human population growth.

    • Mathew Stewart
    • , W. Christopher Carleton
    •  & Huw S. Groucutt
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Fungi may have evolved up to 2.4 billion years ago, but it is unclear when they first colonized land. Here Gan and colleagues report filamentous Ediacaran microfossils from South China that may represent early terrestrial fungi.

    • Tian Gan
    • , Taiyi Luo
    •  & Shuhai Xiao
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Consuming the milk of other species is a unique adaptation of Homo sapiens. Here, the authors carry out proteomic analysis of dental calculus of 41 ancient individuals from Sudan and Kenya, indicating milk consumption occurred as soon as herding spread into eastern Africa.

    • Madeleine Bleasdale
    • , Kristine K. Richter
    •  & Nicole Boivin
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Oldupai Gorge, Tanzania is a key site for understanding early human evolution. Here, the authors report a multiproxy dataset from the Western basin of Oldupai Gorge dating to 2 million years ago, enabling the in situ comparison of lithic assemblages, paleoenvironments and hominin behavioral adaptability.

    • Julio Mercader
    • , Pam Akuku
    •  & Michael Petraglia
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Fish production is predicted to decrease with anthropogenic global warming. Here the authors analyse fish fossil assemblages from 62–46 My old deep-sea sediments and instead find a positive correlation between fish production and ocean temperature over geological timescales, which a data-constrained model explains in terms of trophic transfer efficiency and primary production.

    • Gregory L. Britten
    •  & Elizabeth C. Sibert
  • Article
    | Open Access

    High-latitude records show large diversity losses of marine plankton, such as radiolarians, with historical climate change. Here, Trubovitz et al. present a low-latitude record spanning the last 10 million years, finding that many high-latitude radiolarians did not shift equatorward but instead went extinct.

    • Sarah Trubovitz
    • , David Lazarus
    •  & Paula J. Noble
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Pleistocene population dynamics can inform the consequences of current climate change. This phylogeography of 35 complete American mastodon mitochondrial genomes suggests distinct lineages in this species repeatedly expanded northwards and then went locally extinct in response to glacial cycles.

    • Emil Karpinski
    • , Dirk Hackenberger
    •  & Hendrik N. Poinar
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Non-traditional stable isotopes, such as of calcium, have potential to expand our understanding of ancient diets. Here, Martin et al. use stable calcium isotopes recovered from fossil tooth enamel to compare the dietary ecology of hominins and other primates in the Turkana Basin 2-4 million years ago.

    • Jeremy E. Martin
    • , Théo Tacail
    •  & Vincent Balter
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Parasitic interactions are difficult to document in the fossil record. Here, Zhang et al. analyze a large population of a Cambrian brachiopod and show it was frequently encrusted by tubes aligned to its feeding currents and that encrustation was associated with reduced biomass, suggesting a fitness cost.

    • Zhifei Zhang
    • , Luke C. Strotz
    •  & Glenn A. Brock
  • Article
    | Open Access

    The impact of late Pleistocene climate change on ecosystems has been hard to assess. Here, the authors sequence ancient DNA from Hall’s Cave, Texas and find that both plant and vertebrate diversity decreased with cooling, and though plant diversity recovered with rewarming, megafauna went extinct.

    • Frederik V. Seersholm
    • , Daniel J. Werndly
    •  & Michael Bunce
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Biology can profoundly influence the planet’s climate, but over Earth’s long history these effects are poorly constrained. Here the authors show that on early Earth, the evolution of microbes producing and consuming methane likely controlled warming and glacial events, and thus Earth’s habitability

    • Boris Sauterey
    • , Benjamin Charnay
    •  & Régis Ferrière
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Key events in human evolution are thought to have occurred between 3 and 2.5 Ma, but the fossil record of this period is sparse. Here, Alemseged et al. report a new fossil site from this period, Mille-Logya, Ethiopia, and characterize the geology, basin evolution and fauna, including specimens of Homo.

    • Zeresenay Alemseged
    • , Jonathan G. Wynn
    •  & Joseph Mohan
  • Article
    | Open Access

    The causes of the Upper Pleistocene megafauna extinction in Australia and New Guinea are debated, but fossil data are lacking for much of this region. Here, Hocknull and colleagues report a new, diverse megafauna assemblage from north-eastern Australia that persisted until ~40,000 years ago.

    • Scott A. Hocknull
    • , Richard Lewis
    •  & Rochelle A. Lawrence
  • Article
    | Open Access

    How the development of human societies is influenced through their ecological environment and climatic conditions has been the subject of intensive debate. Here, the authors present multi-proxy data from southern Scandinavia which suggests that pre-agricultural population growth there was likely influenced by enhanced marine production.

    • J. P. Lewis
    • , D. B. Ryves
    •  & S. Juggins
  • Article
    | Open Access

    It is unclear whether bird migration patterns are restricted to interglacial periods or are maintained during glacial maxima. Somveille et al. apply a global migration simulation model to climate reconstruction to show that the prevalence of this phenomenon has likely been largely maintained up to 50,000 years ago.

    • Marius Somveille
    • , Martin Wikelski
    •  & Walter Jetz
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Numerous feathered dinosaurs and early birds have been discovered from the Jurassic and Cretaceous, but the early evolution of feather-feeding insects is not clear. Here, Gao et al. describe a new family of ectoparasitic insects from 10 specimens found associated with feathers in mid-Cretaceous amber.

    • Taiping Gao
    • , Xiangchu Yin
    •  & Dong Ren
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Whether Australia’s Pleistocene megafauna extinctions were caused by climate change, humans, or both is debated. Here, the authors infer the spatio-temporal trajectories of regional extinctions and find that water availability mediates the relationship among climate, human migration and megafauna extinctions.

    • Frédérik Saltré
    • , Joël Chadoeuf
    •  & Corey J. A. Bradshaw
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Asian summer monsoons and their links to global temperature changes have been the subject of intense debate. Here the authors reconstruct the Asian monsoon climate since the late Miocene, using plant silica records of C4 and C3 grasses in central China, and find that global cooling caused Asian monsoon rainfall to decrease markedly in the late Pliocene.

    • Hanlin Wang
    • , Huayu Lu
    •  & Yichao Wang
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Little is known about the long-term dynamics of mesopelagic fish despite their large contribution to total fish biomass. Here, the authors analyze the Santa Barbara Basin otolith record and suggest that mesopelagic fish populations were large but fluctuated with surface climate over the last ~2000 years.

    • William A. Jones
    •  & David M. Checkley Jr.
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Sea-level rise threatens coastal mangroves, with global consequences for these important blue carbon sinks. Here the authors analyse four Holocene sediment cores from islands in Florida Bay and find that mangroves that comprised the South Florida coastline 4–3000 years ago rapidly transitioned to estuarine conditions, despite low rates of sea-level rise, and propose that their demise was driven by high climate variability.

    • Miriam C. Jones
    • , G. Lynn Wingard
    •  & Christopher E. Bernhardt
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Hypsodonty is a durable pattern of dentition seen in mammals with abrasive diets. Here, Melo and colleagues describe new fossils of the stem-mammal Menadon besairiei from the Late Triassic, which show the convergent evolution of hypsodonty before mammals.

    • Tomaz P. Melo
    • , Ana Maria Ribeiro
    •  & Marina Bento Soares
  • Article
    | Open Access

    The fossil record shows a decline in dinosaur diversity preceding their mass extinction. Here, the authors apply ecological niche modelling to show that suitable dinosaur habitat was declining in areas with present-day rock-outcrop, but not across North America as a whole, possibly generating sampling bias in the fossil record.

    • Alfio Alessandro Chiarenza
    • , Philip D. Mannion
    •  & Peter A. Allison
  • Article
    | Open Access

    The Ediacara biota—the first large, complex organisms to evolve on Earth—disappeared prior to the radiation of animals during the Cambrian Period. Here, Muscente et al. perform network analysis of Ediacaran fossils and show that there were two global extinction events before the Cambrian radiation.

    • A. D. Muscente
    • , Natalia Bykova
    •  & Andrew H. Knoll
  • Article
    | Open Access

    The continental record of the end Permian mass extinction is limited, especially from high paleolatitudes. Here, Fielding et al. report a multi-proxy Permo-Triassic record from Australia, resolving the timing of local terrestrial plant extinction and the relationship with environmental changes.

    • Christopher R. Fielding
    • , Tracy D. Frank
    •  & James L. Crowley
  • Article
    | Open Access

    It has been thought that land plants suffered a mass extinction along with animals at the end of the Permian. Here, Nowak et al. show that the apparent plant mass extinction is a result of biases in the fossil record and their reanalysis suggests a lower magnitude and more selective plant extinction.

    • Hendrik Nowak
    • , Elke Schneebeli-Hermann
    •  & Evelyn Kustatscher
  • Article
    | Open Access

    The expansion of grassland plant diversity is thought to have facilitated diversification of herbivorous insects. Here, the authors show opposing evolutionary dynamics in a clade of African grasses and associated stemborers, opposing the hypothesis about grasslands as a 'cradle' of herbivore diversity.

    • Gael J. Kergoat
    • , Fabien L. Condamine
    •  & Bruno Le Ru
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Kalligrammatid lacewings were among the largest Mesozoic insects. Here, Liu et al. present an assemblage of Mesozoic kalligrammatid lacewings from amber and compression fossils, highlighting diversity in traits associated with pollination, chemical communication and defense against predators.

    • Qing Liu
    • , Xiumei Lu
    •  & Bo Wang
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Evidence for a parasitic lifestyle in extinct species tends to be indirect. Here, the authors provide direct evidence through X-ray examination of approximately 30–40 million year old fossil fly pupae, revealing 55 parasitation events by four newly described wasp species.

    • Thomas van de Kamp
    • , Achim H. Schwermann
    •  & Lars Krogmann
  • Article
    | Open Access

    The amber deposits from Kachin, Myanmar have provided numerous insights into life in the Cretaceous ~99 million years ago. Here, Zheng and colleagues describe a new Late Cretaceous amber biota from Tilin, Myanmar, dating from ~72 million years ago and preserving a diverse insect assemblage.

    • Daran Zheng
    • , Su-Chin Chang
    •  & Bo Wang
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Macrobioerosion, the boring of rock and other hard substrates by living organisms, is used as a marker of marine paleo-environments. Here, Bolotov et al. describe a rock-boring mussel and its associated community from freshwater in Myanmar, demonstrating that macrobioerosion is a wider phenomenon.

    • Ivan N. Bolotov
    • , Olga V. Aksenova
    •  & Oleg S. Pokrovsky
  • Article
    | Open Access

    The Eemian period (120 ka) is considered a past analogue for future climatic warming, yet data from the high latitudes remains sparse. Here, the authors show that in Northern Europe, the Eemian saw dramatic climatic shifts, linked to changes in Earth’s orbit and North Atlantic oceanic circulation.

    • J. Sakari Salonen
    • , Karin F. Helmens
    •  & Miska Luoto
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Quantifying the vulnerability of tidal marsh ecosystems to relative sea-level rise (RSLR) is essential if the threat is to be mitigated. Here, the authors analyze the response of Great Britain’s tidal marshes to RSLR during the Holocene and predict an almost inevitable loss of this ecosystem by 2100 under rapid RSLR scenarios.

    • Benjamin P. Horton
    • , Ian Shennan
    •  & Timothy A. Shaw
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Dinosaurs originated ~245 million years ago (mya) but did not diversify until some time in the Late Triassic. Here, Bernardi and colleagues synthesize palaeontological and dated stratigraphic evidence to show that dinosaur diversification followed the Carnian Pluvial Episode 234–232 mya.

    • Massimo Bernardi
    • , Piero Gianolla
    •  & Michael J. Benton
  • Article
    | Open Access

    The Triassic fossil record is biased towards large species, obscuring the anatomical diversity of small species. Here, the authors describe a new species, Colobops noviportensis, based on a 2.5 cm-long skull with proportionally large attachments for jaw muscles, expanding the known diversity of early diapsids.

    • Adam C. Pritchard
    • , Jacques A. Gauthier
    •  & Bhart-Anjan S. Bhullar