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Rapid Pliocene Diversification of Modern Kangaroos

By Aidan M. C. Couzens, Gavin J. Prideaux

Posted 16 May 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/323717

Differentiating between ancient and rapidly-evolved clades is critical for understanding impacts of environmental change on biodiversity. Australia possesses many aridity-adapted lineages, the origins of which have been linked by molecular evidence to late Miocene drying. Using dental macrowear and molar crown-height measurements spanning the past 25 million years, we show that the most iconic of Australia's terrestrial mammals, 'true' kangaroos and wallabies (Macropodini), diversified in response to Pliocene grassland emergence. In contrast, low-crowned short-faced kangaroos radiated into browsing niches as the late Cenozoic became more arid, contradicting the view that this was a period of global decline among browsers. Our results link warm intervals with bursts of diversification and undermine arguments attributing Pleistocene megafaunal extinction to aridity-forced dietary change.

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