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Giant Beasts of Pleistocene South America

Richard A. Fariña, Sergio F. Vizcaíno, and Gerry De Iuliis

Publication Year: 2012

More than 10,000 years ago spectacularly large mammals roamed the pampas and jungles of South America. This book tells the story of these great beasts during and just after the Pleistocene, the geological epoch marked by the great ice ages. Megafauna describes the history and way of life of these animals, their comings and goings, and what befell them at the beginning of the modern era and the arrival of humans. It places these giants within the context of the other mammals then alive, describing their paleobiology -- how they walked; how much they weighed; their diets, behavior, biomechanics; and the interactions among them and with their environment. It also tells the stories of the scientists who contributed to our discovery and knowledge of these transcendent creatures and the environment they inhabited. The episode known as the Great American Biotic Interchange, perhaps the most important of all natural history "experiments," is also an important theme of the book, tracing the biotic events of both North and South America that led to the fauna and the ecosystems discussed in this book.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Series: Life of the Past

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Quote

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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Preface & Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-2

The first reports, during the late 1700s and early 1800s, of the fossil remains of South America’s magnificent Pleistocene beasts, so fantastically bizarre, immediately caused a stir among the general public and, in particular, the European scientific community. The first notices of their discovery described them as monsters, firing the imagination and interest of several...

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1 Paleontology and Science: What Is Science?

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pp. 3-30

South America, the southern half of the pole-to-pole landmass named, according to the usual attribution, after the Italian merchant and cartographer Amerigo Vespucci—or, as convincingly argued by Lloyd and Mitchinson (2008), after the wealthy Bristol merchant Richard Ameryk, a main investor in Giovanni Caboto’s second transatlantic voyage—remains a territory full ...

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2 Distinguished Paleomammalogists

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pp. 31-72

In any human activity, there are people who distinguish themselves, whether through bold ideas or the pioneering character of their efforts, but always on the basis of hard work, such as those commemorated in the niches of the facade of the Museo de La Plata (see opposite page). For the paleontology of South American mammals, there are a few investigators to be included...

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3 Geological and Ecological History of South America during the Cenozoic Era

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pp. 73-102

In this chapter, we provide a broad outline of the tectonic, climatic, and biotic changes that occurred in South America over the course the Cenozoic, focusing on the mammals, given that they have served as the main basis for establishing the biostratigraphic framework in South America. Our story will extend only through to the Pliocene (because the changes...

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4 North American Late Cenozoic Faunas

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pp. 103-134

North America also had a varied mammalian fauna during the late Tertiary and Quaternary, and its importance for understanding the Lujanian in South America has to be emphasized because the connections between the two continents are strong and relevant to our main subject. The South American faunas certainly made their mark in North America, but there ...

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5 The Great American Biotic Interchange and Pleistocene Habitats in South America

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pp. 135-170

Most people, including those reasonably familiar with the modern South American fauna, would be surprised to learn that most of the creatures currently inhabiting South America are relatively recent immigrants. Deer, pumas, jaguars, llamas, foxes, field mice, otters, and possibly peccaries and tapirs have ancestors that reached this continent less than about 3 Mya....

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6 Bestiary

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pp. 171-234

The creatures—some based on real beasts, others thoroughly imagined and mythological—adorning medieval bestiaries were meant to inspire solace, astonishment, and awe in readers; but bestiaries were ultimately allegorical and thus spiritual texts, rather than attempts to accurately portray the natural history of the included creatures (elephants, for example, were...

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7 Physics of the Giants

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pp. 235-274

Classical mechanics has been instrumental in shaping our views on the habits of extinct vertebrates. That this should be so might at first seem counterintuitive; after all, it is not unreasonable to expect that most animals— in the broad sense, say of fishes or the great cats—have always had the same general ways of life, and thus that understanding those of the ...

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8 General Paleoecology

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pp. 275-316

We have already seen how the Pleistocene mammals got to South America, with some having ancestors already established there since the dawn of the Tertiary, notably marsupials, xenarthrans and the native ungulates, others having arrived in Tertiary times by crossing the Atlantic from Africa against overwhelming odds (primates and caviomorph rodents), and still others ...

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9 Extinction

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pp. 317-350

It might be said that humans should be as concerned with the extinction of species as much as with death. They are expressions of the same phenomenon at different scales of the hierarchy of life. To add appeal to the subject, the suggestions of extraterrestrial causes, such as asteroid or comet impacts, first to explain the demise of nonavian dinosaurs and then other groups of organisms, are in marked contrast to the more traditional models,...

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Epilogue: Lessons from the Deep Past

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pp. 351-354

In this book, we have undertaken a journey through the wonders of the South American megafauna, not only because the fauna is intrinsically interesting in itself, but also to provide examples of how paleontology manages to overcome the paucity of remains—meager scraps, really—that have been left to us to interpret the history of past life. Through our adventurous ...

Appendix 1 A Primer on Skeletal Anatomy

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pp. 355-382

Appendix 2 Skeletal Anatomy of Xenarthrans

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pp. 383-392

Appendix 3 Equations Used to Estimate Body Masses Based on Dental and Skeletal Measurements and Their Respective Sources

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pp. 393-396

Appendix 4 Calculations

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pp. 397-400


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pp. 401-422


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pp. 423-436

About the Authors

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p. 436-436

E-ISBN-13: 9780253007193
E-ISBN-10: 0253007194
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253002303

Page Count: 416
Illustrations: 11 color illus., 237 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Life of the Past