A study of the evolution of the herbivore community during the last three million years in Europe is proposed in this paper. The study includes the analysis of evolutionary changes of systematic and ecological structure (taxa diversity, body mass, diet specializations) related both with eco-physiological and environmental factors. Several biochronological phases can be envisioned. The most drastic change in the herbivore community structure coincides with the onset of the global glacial/interglacial cycle. It marks the emergence of the zoogeographical Palearctic region in Northern Eurasia that may be correlated with the base of Gelasian (2.6 Ma) and indicates the beginning of the Quaternary. This period (considered as an era/erathem) is specific in terms of the recurrent, relatively cyclic, faunal turnover. The two following stages of faunal evolution mark a beginning and the end of complex continuous changes in the taxonomic and structural composition of the herbivore associations that resulted in a dominance of large-sized ruminant herbivores of modern type. They are mostly opportunistic mixed-feeders and grazers that can endure a high content of cellulose in forage. Quaternary herbivore associations in Western Europe demonstrate a high ecological polyvalence and adaptive tolerance to a broad variation of environmental and climatic conditions.
Keywords: ruminants, cæcalids, plio-pleistocene, evolution, ecology
Authors: Jean-Philip Brugal & Roman Croitor