Mammals that relied on fruit and browse disappeared early in the transition from forest to savannah vegetation and were not replaced, while those that ate broad leaves and grasses either adapted and persisted by changing their diets to include more grass or disappeared and were replaced by immigrant species with similar diets. By the time that savannah was the dominant vegetation, most herbivorous mammals in the area subsisted mainly on grass. The overall effect was a significant decline in the diversity of mammals in the area.
"We see quite a different ecological profile of the kinds of mammals that coexisted after this climate change than before," said Badgley, who is an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, as well as a research scientist in the Department of Geological Sciences and the Museum of Paleontology. "It's clear that climate has had an impact on the ecological diversity of mammals in the area."
In addition to providing compelling evidence for the effects of climate change on ecological systems, the paper is a testament to the value of long-term research in a single field area, Badgley said. "This is the kind of study you can only do after you've been working in a place with a big team for 25 years or more, because you need all the other basic data to be thoroughly resolved before you can even start to address the kinds of questions in this work. We've been fortunate to have a team that found the various research topics so worthwhile and so interesting that they stuck with it for several decades, and we've also been fortunate to receive funding for field work for that long."
|Contact: Nancy Ross-Flanigan|
University of Michigan