Macroevolutionary patterns
in mammalian evolution

Extending the information obtained in the other two areas of research at macroevolutionary timescales allows me to explore how the evolution of lineages has been influenced by some factors such as climate change or environmental transformation.

In this area of research, I try to establish relationships between climate and evolutionary patterns in order to understand climatic influence on the evolution and ecology of today’s organisms. This approach is important because could give clues to avert future biodiversity collapse in response to current anthropogenic climate change.

The fossil record provides power to understand past biotic responses to climate change and to predict biotic reactions in future climatic changes.

As a result of my postdoc project at Brown University under the supervision of Christine Janis, and in collaboration with Paul Palmqvist, Juan A. Pérez-Claros (both at the University of Málaga), and Miquel De Renzi (at the University of Valencia), we have shown that, over the last 65 Ma in North America, mammalian diversity could be partitioned into six successive faunal associations that expand and decline over time, and I demonstrated that these faunas tend to increase in diversity in association with sustained periods of climatic trends (warming or cooling) until some kind of perturbation occurs (temperature peaks or rapid climatic changes), which correlates with transitions between faunas.

Such perturbations, related to anthropogenic climatic change, are currently challenging the fauna of the world today, emphasizing the importance of the fossil record for our understanding of how past events affected faunal diversification and extinction, and hence how future climatic changes may continue to influence life on earth (Figueirido et al. 2012. Proc. NY Acad. Sci. 109: 722).

Within this area of research, together with Chirstine Janis, Alberto Martín-Serra, and Zhijie Jack Tseng we have recently shown that the emergence of specialized hunting techniques in extinct canids was influenced by the different shifts in vegetation and habitat structure, as a consequence of climate change. Furthermore, my results indicated that climate change and its impact on vegetation and habitat structure can be critical for the emergence of ecological innovations and can alter the direction of lineage evolution (Figueirido et al 2015. Nature communications 6: 7976).