Published April 7, 2022 | Version v1
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Data from: The megaherbivore gap after the non-avian dinosaur extinctions modified trait evolution and diversification of tropical palms

  • 1. German Center for Integrative Biodiversity Research
  • 2. University of Amsterdam
  • 3. University of Zurich


The Cretaceous–Paleogene (K-Pg) extinction of the non-avian dinosaurs (66 Ma) led to a 25 million year gap of megaherbivores (>1000 kg) before the evolution of megaherbivorous mammals in the Late Eocene (40 Ma). The botanical consequences of this 'Paleocene megaherbivore gap' (PMHG) remain poorly explored. We hypothesize that the absence of megaherbivores should result in changes in the diversification and trait evolution of associated plant lineages. We used phylogenetic time- and trait-dependent diversification models with palms (Arecaceae) and show that the PMHG was characterized by speciation slowdowns, decreased evolution of armature, and increased evolution of megafaunal (4cm) fruits. This suggests that the absence of browsing by megaherbivores during the PMHG may have led to a loss of defence traits, but absence of megaherbivorous seed dispersers did not lead to a loss of megafaunal fruits. Instead, increases in PMHG fruit sizes may be explained by Late Paleocene rising temperatures, rainforest expansion, and the subsequent radiation of seed dispersing birds and mammals. We show that the profound impact of the PMHG on plant diversification can be detected even with the overwriting of adaptations by the subsequent Late Eocene opening-up of megaherbivore-associated ecological opportunities. Our study provides a quantitative, comparative framework to assess diversification and adaptation during one of the most enigmatic periods in angiosperm history.


Funding provided by: Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft
Crossref Funder Registry ID:
Award Number: DFG–FZT 118, 202548816

Funding provided by: SYNTHESYS*
Crossref Funder Registry ID:
Award Number: GB-TAF-6695

Funding provided by: Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research*
Crossref Funder Registry ID:
Award Number: 824.15.007

Funding provided by: University of Amsterdam
Crossref Funder Registry ID:
Award Number: Faculty Research Cluster 'Global Ecology'


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10.5061/dryad.f1vhhmgzt (DOI)