Abiotic and Biotic Drivers of Turnover and Community Assembly in African Mammals

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Climate and environmental forcing are widely accepted to be important drivers of evolutionary and ecological change in mammal communities over geologic time scales. This paradigm has been particularly influential in

Climate and environmental forcing are widely accepted to be important drivers of evolutionary and ecological change in mammal communities over geologic time scales. This paradigm has been particularly influential in studies of the eastern African late Cenozoic fossil record, in which aridification, increasing seasonality, and C4 grassland expansion are seen as having shaped the major patterns of human and faunal evolution. Despite the ubiquity of studies linking climate and environmental forcing to evolutionary and ecological shifts in the mammalian fossil record, many central components of this paradigm remain untested or poorly developed. To fill this gap, this dissertation employs biogeographical and macroecological analyses of present-day African mammal communities as a lens for understanding how abiotic change may have shaped community turnover and structure in the eastern African Plio-Pleistocene. Three dissertation papers address: 1) the role of ecological niche breadth in shaping divergent patterns of macroevolutionary turnover across clades; 2) the effect of climatic and environmental gradients on community assembly; 3) the relative influence of paleo- versus present-day climates in structuring contemporary patterns of community diversity. Results of these papers call into question many tenets of current theory, particularly: 1) that niche breadth differences (and, by extension, their influence on allopatric speciation) are important drivers of macroevolution, 2) that climate is more important than biotic interactions in community assembly, and 3) that communities today are in equilibrium with present-day climates. These findings highlight the need to critically reevaluate the role and scale-dependence of climate in mammal evolution and community ecology and to carefully consider potential time lags and disequilibrium dynamics in the fossil record.