On the Evolution of Large Size in Mammalian Herbivores of Cenozoic Faunas of Southern South America

Edited by Sergio F. Vizcaíno, Guillermo H. Cassini, Néstor Toledo and M. Susana Bargo

in Bones, Clones, and Biomes

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print June 2012 | ISBN: 9780226649191
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226649214 | DOI:
On the Evolution of Large Size in Mammalian Herbivores of Cenozoic Faunas of Southern South America

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This chapter examines how mammal body mass maxima and ranges have changed over the past 40 Ma. The study demonstrates that different taxonomic groups have occupied the role of largest herbivore during this interval, and indicates that the greatest diversity of large species was present in South America only 10,000 BP. This latter observation has important implications for the functioning of modern ecosystems and suggests that these paleocommunities were structured quite differently than those of today, a finding that echoes results of similar studies of other time intervals. The chapter adds to an expanding body of literature on diet, locomotion, body mass, and community structure that together have created a much more detailed picture of the life and times of extinct South American mammals. The absence of carnivorans (i.e., members of the order Carnivora) is a characteristic and intriguing feature of most South American paleocommunities. In their absence, the role of large, terrestrial, warm-blooded meat-eater (carnivore) was filled by metatherian mammals—specifically sparassodonts (borhyaenids and relatives)—as well as phorusrhacids, also known as terror birds, which were large to giant flightless birds with oversized heads and hooked beaks.

Keywords: mammalian herbivores; cenozoic faunas; ecosystems; paleocommunities; carnivorans; metatherian mammals

Chapter.  8508 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Biological Sciences

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