Abstract

Changes in mammalian faunal composition and structure following the Cretaceous–Paleogene mass extinction are central to understanding not only how terrestrial communities recovered from this ecological perturbation but also the evolution of archaic groups leading to extant mammalian clades. Here, we analyzed changes in mammalian local faunas during the earliest Paleogene biotic recovery on a small spatiotemporal scale. We compiled samples of mammals from four localities in the Hell Creek Formation and Tullock Member of the Fort Union Formation, in the McGuire Creek area, McCone County, Montana, USA, and placed these localities into a high-precision chronostratigraphic framework using 40Ar/39Ar tephra ages and magnetostratigraphy. Within this framework, we quantitatively compared faunal composition, heterogeneity, and richness among McGuire Creek local faunas and made broader comparisons to other earliest Paleogene faunas from throughout the Western Interior of North America. In the first ∼320 k.y. of the recovery, mammalian local faunas at McGuire Creek, all of which can be placed in the Puercan 1 North American Land Mammal Age (NALMA) interval zone, underwent modest increases in taxonomic richness and heterogeneity, indicating the beginning of biotic recovery; however, no McGuire Creek fauna reached fully recovered levels of taxonomic richness. Further, appearance of immigrant taxa such as Purgatorius in younger McGuire Creek faunas demonstrates important compositional changes within the Pu1 of McGuire Creek. These results highlight the difficulties with describing the nuanced mammalian recovery process using the NALMA system and emphasize the increasing importance of high-precision dating, especially when comparing faunas across large geographic distances.

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