Abstract

The Arctic is undergoing rapid warming, but the impact on the biosphere, in particular on large terrestrial mammals, is not clear. Among the best deep time laboratories to assess biotic impacts of Arctic climate change, early Eocene (ca. 53 Ma ago) fossil assemblages on Ellesmere Island, Nunavut (~79°N), preserve evidence of forests inhabited by alligators, tortoises, and a diverse mammalian fauna most similar to coeval lower-latitude faunas in western North America. By analyzing carbon and oxygen isotope ratios of mammalian tooth enamel, we show that large herbivores were year-round inhabitants in the Arctic, a probable prerequisite to dispersal across northern high-latitude land bridges. If present-day warming continues, year-round occupation of the Arctic by lower-latitude plants and animals is predicted.

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