Extinct Megafauna Frugivores

The diversity of extinct megafauna frugivores was extremely high in different continents, and a number of them played a central role in the evolution of fruit traits we see today. While the largest South American extant mammal is the tapir (Baird’s, up to 400 kg), consider that 100% of megamammal species (body mass >1000 kg) and about 80% of large mammal species (those over 44 kg) from the Pleistocene South American fauna was extinct ca. 10-12 Kyr BP. At least 37 genera of mammals were eliminated, including most of the megafauna species (i.e., gomphotheres, camelids, ground sloths, glyptodonts, and toxodontids). All megamammals (37 species) and most large mammals (46 species) present during the late Lujanian (latest Pleistocene- earliest Holocene) became extinct in South America (around 30 genera of mammals vanished in North America, 17 in Australia, and 24 in Asia). In contrast, Africa lost 8 of 50 megamammal genera. Africa and Southern Asia are the only continental areas that have terrestrial mammals weighing over 1000 kg today.

A number of the extinct Pleistocene megamammals were herbivores, grazers, browsers, and certainly did include fruits in their diet, probably in large amounts, thus potentially acting as seed dispersers for a variety of plants. This fact has been evidenced from coprolites and isotopic analysis of fossil remains, with additional insight from comparative anatomy and morphology. Present-day plant-frugivore interactions still have the signals of these ghosts of evolution.

Haynes, G. (ed.). 2009. American megafaunal extinctions at the end of the Pleistocene. Springer, Berlin.

Barlow, C. 2000. The ghosts of evolution: nonsensical fruit, missing partners, and other ecological anachronisms. Basic Books, New York.

Illustration: Sinammonite @deviantart.com

Most of the species shown in this great illustration from Sinammonite (http://sinammonite.deviantart.com/) were frugivorous (probably with the exception of the large carnivores) and legitimate seed dispersers of their food plants. The figure is high-res; you may wnat to zoom-in and seek the species names by the numbers.


Prehistoric megafauna.
1. Chilotherium anderssoni: 1.4m
2. Ancylotherium sp.: 1.8m
3. Sinotherium lagrelii: 2.6m
4. Pachycrocuta brevirostris: 1m
5. Panthera tigris: 0.97m
6. Homotherium crenatidens: 1.1m
7. Xenosmilus hodsonaei: 1.1m
8. “Amerhippusscotti: 1.5m
9. Hipparion insperatum: 1.9m
10. Loxodonta atlantica: 3.5m
11. Stegodon zdanskyi: 3.9m
12. Ningxiatherium euryrhinu: 2.2m
13. Gigantopithecus blacki: 1.8m
14. Dinocrocuta gigantea: 1.4m
15. Amphimachairodus palander: 1.1m
16. Smilodon populator: 1.2m
17. Panthera atrox: 1.3m
18. Equus sussenbornensis: 1.8m
19. Elephas maximus: 2.9m
20. Dzungariotherium orgosense: 4.5m
21. Palaeoloxodon antiquus: 4m
22. Bison priscus: 2.1m
23. Equus capensis: 1.46m
24. Elasmotherium chaprovicum 2.8m
25. Mammuthus trogontherii: 4.5m
26. Proboscidipparion sinense: 1.8m
27. Plesippus enormis 1.65m
28. Ceratotherium cottoni: 1.8m
29. Diprotodon optatum: 1.9m
30. Palaeoloxodon recki: 4.5m
31. Mammut borsoni: 3.5m
32. Equus koobiforensis: 1.6m
33. Palorchestes azael: 1.3m
34. Sivapanthera pleistocaenica: 1m
35. Equus mosbachensis: 1.65m
36. Stephanorhinus kirchbergensis: 2m
37. Palaeotherium giganteum: 1.5m
38. Zygomaturus trilobus: 1.5m
39. Deinotherium giganteum: 3.5m
40. Paraceratherium lepidum: 4.5m
41. Mammuthus columbi: 4m
42. “Equusmajor: 1.78m
43. Coelodonta antiquitatis: 1.8m
44. Bubalus youngi: 1.8m
45. Dzungariotherium? tienshanense: 5m
46. Stegodon ganesa: 4m
47. Sinohippus robustus 1.3m
48. Panthera spelaea: 1.2m
49. Embolotherium andrewsi: 2.8m
50. Allohippus sanmeniensis: 1.8m
51. Elasmotherium caucasicum: 3m
52. “Equusgiganteus: 2.25m
53. Syncerus antiquus: 1.65m


Seed dispersal by megafauna (extinct and extant)

I’ll be posting a series on megafauna (extinct and extant) and megafauna-dependent plants that I’ve been contributing to our Facebook page Frugivores & Seed Dispersal during the month of December. The posts focused on megafauna frugivores and megafauna-dependent fruits and seeds, and the processes of dispersal associated with them. I also included other interesting posts on frugivory and seed dispersal, as ever, but megafauna was the focus. Hopefully we contribute to a better appreciation of the distinct ecological roles and the contribution of megafauna species to the functioning and maintenance of ecosystems around the world, specifically on their role as frugivores and seed dispersers.


Among the most spectacular frugivores and seed dispersers we find the Megafauna species, those amazing beasts that impress every naturalist because of their adaptations, life histories, and specific traits. Yet megafauna species are being particularly hard hit by human-driven activities, notably hunting and deforestation. Megafauna species are traditionally defined as being above 40 kg body mass (i.e., > 100 lb), and include a full range of mammals (e.g., rhino, elephants, a number of antelopes, large primates), birds (e.g., ostrich, cassowary, emu), and reptiles (e.g., varanids, turtles). Moreover, think about the late Pleistocene (~12 Kyr BP) extinction of an even richest diversity of megafauna species: toxodons, terrestrial sloths, mamuths, gliptodons, gomphoteres, etc. The study of frugivory and seed dispersal (FSD) by megafauna opens a number of extremely interesting questions, ranging from the role of past history in shaping fruit traits, the lasting signatures of past extinctions of major seed dispersers for plants (e.g., in the genetic pools), the conflicts and interactions with humans in natural and seminatural habitats, the role of extremely long-distance seed dispersal by megafauna and its collapse following extinction, etc.

Illustration: Dadi, “Cada um”.


Moving to WordPress

I’m about to complete the moving of my blog (started by early 2003…) to WordPress. There are several reasons for this- the most important being the ability to edit from the tablet and phone, and better versatility with the editing and composition of entries. I keep using iWeb and Dreamweaver for the web page, however, at least until iWeb is discontinued by Apple. The older version of the blog is here. The new blog in WP is called “The Red Notebook“.