A dynamic global equilibrium in carnivoran diversification over 20 million years

Lee Hsiang Liow and John A. Finarelli in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences

Lee Hsiang Liow and John A. Finarelli


The ecological and evolutionary processes leading to present-day biological diversity can be inferred by reconstructing the phylogeny of living organisms, and then modelling potential processes that could have produced this genealogy. A more direct approach is to estimate past processes from the fossil record. The Carnivora (Mammalia) has both substantial extant species richness and a rich fossil record. We compiled species-level data for over 10 000 fossil occurrences of nearly 1400 carnivoran species. Using this compilation, we estimated extinction, speciation and net diversification for carnivorans through the Neogene (22–2 Ma), while simultaneously modelling sampling probability. Our analyses show that caniforms (dogs, bears and relatives) have higher speciation and extinction rates than feliforms (cats, hyenas and relatives), but lower rates of net diversification. We also find that despite continual species turnover, net carnivoran diversification through the Neogene is surprisingly stable, suggesting a saturated adaptive zone, despite restructuring of the physical environment. This result is strikingly different from analyses of carnivoran diversification estimated from extant species alone. Two intervals show elevated diversification rates (13–12 Ma and 4–3 Ma), although the precise causal factors behind the two peaks in carnivoran diversification remain open questions.

Published 22 January 2014
Vol. 281 no. 1778

Tags: Proc. R. Soc. B;
Published Feb. 5, 2014 9:48 AM - Last modified May 9, 2014 9:54 AM