Twenty-million-year relationship between mammalian diversity and primary productivity

Susanne Fritz, Jussi Eronen, Jan Schnitzler, Christian Hof, Christine M Janis, Andreas Mulch, Katrin Bohning-Gaese, Catherine Graham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)
256 Downloads (Pure)


At global and regional scales, primary productivity strongly correlates with richness patterns of extant animals across space, suggesting that resource availability and climatic conditions drive patterns of diversity. However, the existence and consistency of such diversity–productivity relationships through geological history is unclear. Here we provide a comprehensive quantitative test of the diversity–productivity relationship for terrestrial large mammals through time across broad temporal and spatial scales. We combine >14,000 occurrences for 690 fossil genera through the Neogene (23–1.8 Mya) with regional estimates of primary productivity from fossil plant communities in North America and Europe. We show a significant positive diversity–productivity relationship through the 20-million-year record, providing evidence on unprecedented spatial and temporal scales that this relationship is a general pattern in the ecology and paleo-ecology of our planet. Further, we discover that genus richness today does not match the fossil relationship, suggesting that a combination of human impacts and Pleistocene climate variability has modified the 20-million-year ecological relationship by strongly reducing primary productivity and driving many mammalian species into decline or to extinction.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10908-10913
Number of pages7
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number39
Early online date12 Sep 2016
Publication statusPublished - 27 Sep 2016


  • macroecology
  • paleontology
  • Mammals

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