Crocodylian diversity peak and extinction in the late Cenozoic of the northern Neotropics

Nat Commun. 2013;4:1907. doi: 10.1038/ncomms2940.


Northern South America and South East Asia are today's hotspots of crocodylian diversity with up to six (mainly alligatorid) and four (mainly crocodylid) living species respectively, of which usually no more than two or three occur sympatrically. In contrast, during the late Miocene, 14 species existed in South America. Here we show a diversity peak in sympatric occurrence of at least seven species, based on detailed stratigraphic sequence sampling and correlation, involving four geological formations from the middle Miocene to the Pliocene, and on the discovery of two new species and a new occurrence. This degree of crocodylian sympatry is unique in the world and shows that at least several members of Alligatoroidea and Gavialoidea coexisted. By the Pliocene, all these species became extinct, and their extinction was probably related to hydrographic changes linked to the Andean uplift. The extant fauna is first recorded with the oldest Crocodylus species from South America.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alligators and Crocodiles / anatomy & histology*
  • Animals
  • Biodiversity*
  • Extinction, Biological*
  • Fossils
  • Geography*
  • Geological Phenomena
  • Phylogeny
  • Time Factors