Palaeocene-Eocene evolution of beta diversity among ungulate mammals in North America

Simon A.F. Darroch*, Amelinda E. Webb, Nicholas Longrich, Jonathan Belmaker

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Aim: The Palaeocene-late Eocene transition in North America marks a critical interval in the evolution and diversification of land mammals, including adaptive radiation in the Palaeocene, and repeated waves of immigration over habitat bridges at the Palaeocene-Eocene boundary. We investigate the fossil record of ungulate mammals over this period to understand the effects of immigration and faunal exchange on local (alpha), regional (gamma) and between-site (beta) diversity. Location: North America. Methods: We use Palaeocene and Eocene records of North American ungulate mammals taken from the Paleobiology Database (PBDB), and calculate beta diversity among families and genera within the seven stages of the Cenozoic. We reconstruct geographic ranges sizes for studied taxa, and test trends in these ranges against null models used to control for sampling biases. Finally, we use Mantel tests to quantify the relationship between geographic distance and faunal dissimilarity within each time slice, in order to visualize changes in the spatial complexity of mammal communities. Results: Gamma diversity increases over the studied interval, with varying contributions from alpha and beta diversity. Beta diversity increases from the Palaeocene to Eocene, reflected in decreasing range size and increased correlation between reconstructed distance and faunal similarity. Increase in beta diversity over the Palaeocene-Eocene transition is driven by smaller geographic ranges among putatively invasive 'immigrant' and secondarily endemic taxa; range contraction among these groups in the middle-late Eocene leads to a Bartonian peak in beta diversity. Main conclusions: High gamma diversity in the Eocene was driven by high beta diversity rather than alpha diversity, indicating that range contraction in both immigrant and secondarily endemic taxa restructured the spatial organization of mammal communities. These parallel trends suggest that factors such as tectonic uplift or climate change were responsible, as opposed to ecological differences. Increase in beta diversity over the Palaeocene-Eocene boundary suggests that over longer time-scales, mass immigration events can lead to greater overall richness and greater heterogeneity, rather than homogeneity, within regional assemblages.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)757-768
Number of pages12
JournalGlobal Ecology and Biogeography
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2014


  • Beta diversity
  • Fossil record
  • Geographic range
  • Mammals
  • Mass immigration
  • North America


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