When did Carcharocles megalodon become extinct? A new analysis of the fossil record

Catalina Pimiento, Christopher F Clements

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

Abstract

Carcharocles megalodon ("Megalodon") is the largest shark that ever lived. Based on its distribution, dental morphology, and associated fauna, it has been suggested that this species was a cosmopolitan apex predator that fed on marine mammals from the middle Miocene to the Pliocene (15.9-2.6 Ma). Prevailing theory suggests that the extinction of apex predators affects ecosystem dynamics. Accordingly, knowing the time of extinction of C. megalodon is a fundamental step towards understanding the effects of such an event in ancient communities. However, the time of extinction of this important species has never been quantitatively assessed. Here, we synthesize the most recent records of C. megalodon from the literature and scientific collections and infer the date of its extinction by making a novel use of the Optimal Linear Estimation (OLE) model. Our results suggest that C. megalodon went extinct around 2.6 Ma. Furthermore, when contrasting our results with known ecological and macroevolutionary trends in marine mammals, it became evident that the modern composition and function of modern gigantic filter-feeding whales was established after the extinction of C. megalodon. Consequently, the study of the time of extinction of C. megalodon provides the basis to improve our understanding of the responses of marine species to the removal of apex predators, presenting a deep-time perspective for the conservation of modern ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e111086
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume9
Issue number10
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Keywords

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Ecosystem
  • Extinction, Biological
  • Fossils
  • Paleontology/methods
  • Sharks

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