Endemic Evolution and Faunal Turnover of the European Paleocene Mammals

The Paleocene mammal faunas that existed during 10 million years are generally accepted as a heritage from the late Cretaceous based on their primitive morphology but only two families were shown to be real survivors of the Cretaceous-Paleogene crisis: leptictids and paleoryctids. The origin of most of the Paleocene mammals is thus unknown. The Paleocene faunas are also considered as endemic during most of the Paleocene with exceptions for a few cosmopolitan groups at the end of the Paleocene. Moreover, most of the Paleocene groups disappear after the Paleocene-Eocene Boundary and their ecological niches are taken by new competitors, the first modern orders such as rodents, primates, artiodactyls, perissodactyls… This classical scenario is however mainly based on the evolution of North American Paleocene faunas.

This project focuses on the evolution of the Paleocene mammal faunas in Europe, especially the radiation of the early Paleocene mammals, based on the study of the systematics and phylogenetic affinities of the Hainin fauna (Mons Basin). This unique collection, preserved at the RBINS, represents the oldest European Paleocene mammal fauna. The late Paleocene faunas are being analyzed based on the RBINS collections (Cernay, Berru) and through new excavations (Rivecourt). The identification of the European Paleocene mammal diversity allows to reconstruct their phylogenetic origin, and to distinguish between endemically evolving taxa and groups originating by migration. For the latter, the project attempts to elucidate the geographic origin of the immigrants. The work should thus answer several questions: Which are the mammal groups inherited from the Cretaceous, crossing the K-Pg boundary in Europe, and are they different from other continents? What exactly is the diversity of the European Paleocene mammal fauna and does it represent a stock of potential ancestors for some modern mammals appearing at the P-E boundary? Among these European Paleocene mammals, which originate from endemic evolution, and which arrive during dispersal events? And when do these dispersals occur?

Related publications

  • Smith, T. et al. First Clarkforkian Equivalent Land Mammal Age in the Latest Paleocene Basal Sparnacian Facies of Europe: Fauna, Flora, Paleoenvironment and (Bio)stratigraphy. PLoS One 9, (2014).
  • De Bast, E., Steurbaut, E. & Smith T. New mammals from the marine Selandian of Maret, Belgium, and their implications for the age of the Paleocene continental deposits of Walbeck, Germany. Geologica Belgica 16, (2013).
  • De Bast, E. & Smith T. Reassessment of the small arctocyonid’ Prolatidens waudruae from the early Paleocene of Belgium, and its phylogenetic relationships with ungulate-like mammals. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 33, 964-976 (2013).
  • De Bast, E., Sigé, B. & Smith T Diversity of the adapisoriculid mammals from the early Palaeocene of Hainin, Belgium. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 57, 35-52 (2012).
  • Smith, T., De Bast, E. & Sigé, B. Euarchontan affinity of Paleocene Afro-European adapisoriculid mammals and their origin in the late Cretaceous Deccan Traps of India. Naturwissenschaften 97, 417-433 (2010).
Internal member(s)
Thierry Smith
Eric De Bast
Belspo Project Action 2 from 01/10/2009 to 30/09/2013
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