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Body size structure in north-western Mediterranean Plio-Pleistocene mammalian faunas


Correspondence: Jesús Rodríguez, Departamento de Palaeobiología, Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, CSIC. José Gutiérrez Abascal, 2, 28006 Madrid, Spain. E-mail:


Aim  We investigated the patterns of body-size changes of the north-western Mediterranean Plio-Pleistocene large mammal faunas (excluding rodents, bats, lagomorphs and insectivores) in order to identify the tempo and mode of the major shifts in body size distribution, and to put them in the context of Plio-Pleistocene environmental changes and the development of the Mediterranean climate.

Location  We analysed fossil faunas of Spain, France and Italy. A set of recent regional faunas from several macroclimatic regions was selected to serve as elements for comparison of the size distribution of past faunas, consisting of: Spain, France and Italy together, Florida, California, Central Chile, Indochina, India, Korea-Manchuria, Malawi, The Cape, North Africa, Turkey and Australia.

Methods  Mammal species were grouped into five body size categories for carnivores and four categories for noncarnivore species. The number of species in each size category was computed and the resulting matrix of body weight classes × regions and time intervals was used as an input matrix in a Correspondence Analysis.

Results  Recent and fossil faunas strongly differ in body size structure. The distribution of recent faunas within the CA seems to reflect both ecological and historic factors, intertwined in a complex fashion. No clear relationship has been observed between body size structure and environmental factors. During the late Pliocene to early Pleistocene there were only minor changes in the pattern of size distribution, although plant communities were in a transition process from subtropical forests to Mediterranean woodlands and steppes. The major change in body size structure of the north-western Mediterranean fauna occurred at the Galerian, around 1 Ma ago. This marked the beginning of the modern fauna, and a general trend towards a larger body size, reduction in the number of medium sized herbivores, and an increase of large herbivores and megaherbivores.

Main conclusions  The Plio-Pleistocene faunas lack modern analogues. The body size structure of mammalian regional faunas appears to be strongly dependent on historical factors. The only major shift in body size distribution occurred during the Plio-Pleistocene, in the late Villafranchian-Galerian transition, coincident with the onset of the Pleistocene high intensity glacial cycles.