Pliocene

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Pliocene
5.333 ± 0.08 – 2.58 ± 0.04 Ma
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Chronology
Etymology
Name formalityFormal
Usage information
Celestial body Earth
Regional usageGlobal (ICS)
Time scale(s) usedICS Time Scale
Definition
Chronological unit Epoch
Stratigraphic unit Series
Time span formalityFormal
Lower boundary definitionBase of the Thvera magnetic event (C3n.4n), which is only 96 ka (5 precession cycles) younger than the GSSP
Lower boundary GSSPHeraclea Minoa section, Heraclea Minoa, Cattolica Eraclea, Sicily, Italy
37°23′30″N13°16′50″E / 37.3917°N 13.2806°E / 37.3917; 13.2806
GSSP ratified2000 [4]
Upper boundary definition
Upper boundary GSSPMonte San Nicola Section, Gela, Sicily, Italy
37°08′49″N14°12′13″E / 37.1469°N 14.2035°E / 37.1469; 14.2035
GSSP ratified2009 (as base of Quaternary and Pleistocene) [5]

The Pliocene ( /ˈpl.əsn,ˈpl.-/ PLY-ə-seen, PLY-oh-; [6] [7] also Pleiocene) [8] is the epoch in the geologic time scale that extends from 5.333 million to 2.58 [9] million years ago. It is the second and most recent epoch of the Neogene Period in the Cenozoic Era. The Pliocene follows the Miocene Epoch and is followed by the Pleistocene Epoch. Prior to the 2009 revision of the geologic time scale, which placed the four most recent major glaciations entirely within the Pleistocene, the Pliocene also included the Gelasian Stage, which lasted from 2.588 to 1.806 million years ago, and is now included in the Pleistocene. [10]

Contents

As with other older geologic periods, the geological strata that define the start and end are well identified but the exact dates of the start and end of the epoch are slightly uncertain. The boundaries defining the Pliocene are not set at an easily identified worldwide event but rather at regional boundaries between the warmer Miocene and the relatively cooler Pliocene. The upper boundary was set at the start of the Pleistocene glaciations.

Etymology

Charles Lyell (later Sir Charles) gave the Pliocene its name in Principles of Geology (volume 3, 1833). [11]

The word pliocene comes from the Greek words πλεῖον (pleion, "more") and καινός (kainos, "new" or "recent") [12] and means roughly "continuation of the recent", referring to the essentially modern marine mollusc fauna.

Subdivisions

Some schemes for subdivisions of the Pliocene Pliocene Chart.jpg
Some schemes for subdivisions of the Pliocene

In the official timescale of the ICS, the Pliocene is subdivided into two stages. From youngest to oldest they are:

The Piacenzian is sometimes referred to as the Late Pliocene, whereas the Zanclean is referred to as the Early Pliocene.

In the system of

In the Paratethys area (central Europe and parts of western Asia) the Pliocene contains the Dacian (roughly equal to the Zanclean) and Romanian (roughly equal to the Piacenzian and Gelasian together) stages. As usual in stratigraphy, there are many other regional and local subdivisions in use.

In Britain, the Pliocene is divided into the following stages (old to young): Gedgravian, Waltonian, Pre-Ludhamian, Ludhamian, Thurnian, Bramertonian or Antian, Pre-Pastonian or Baventian, Pastonian and Beestonian. In the Netherlands the Pliocene is divided into these stages (old to young): Brunssumian C, Reuverian A, Reuverian B, Reuverian C, Praetiglian, Tiglian A, Tiglian B, Tiglian C1-4b, Tiglian C4c, Tiglian C5, Tiglian C6 and Eburonian. The exact correlations between these local stages and the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS) stages is still a matter of detail. [18]

Climate

Mid-Pliocene reconstructed annual sea surface temperature anomaly Pliocene sst anomaly.png
Mid-Pliocene reconstructed annual sea surface temperature anomaly

The beginning of the Pliocene was marked by an increase in global temperatures relative to the cooler Messinian related to the 1.2 million year obliquity amplitude modulation cycle. [19] The global average temperature in the mid-Pliocene (3.3–3 mya) was 2–3 °C higher than today, [20] carbon dioxide levels were the same as today, [21] and global sea level was 25 m higher. [22] The northern hemisphere ice sheet was ephemeral before the onset of extensive glaciation over Greenland that occurred in the late Pliocene around 3 Ma. [23] The formation of an Arctic ice cap is signaled by an abrupt shift in oxygen isotope ratios and ice-rafted cobbles in the North Atlantic and North Pacific Ocean beds. [24] Mid-latitude glaciation was probably underway before the end of the epoch. The global cooling that occurred during the Pliocene may have spurred on the disappearance of forests and the spread of grasslands and savannas. [25]

Paleogeography

Examples of migrant species in the Americas after the formation of the Isthmus of Panama. Olive green silhouettes denote North American species with South American ancestors; blue silhouettes denote South American species of North American origin. Great American Biotic Interchange examples.svg
Examples of migrant species in the Americas after the formation of the Isthmus of Panama. Olive green silhouettes denote North American species with South American ancestors; blue silhouettes denote South American species of North American origin.

Continents continued to drift, moving from positions possibly as far as 250 km from their present locations to positions only 70 km from their current locations. South America became linked to North America through the Isthmus of Panama during the Pliocene, making possible the Great American Interchange and bringing a nearly complete end to South America's distinctive native ungulate fauna, [26] though other South American lineages like its predatory mammals were already extinct by this point and others like xenarthrans continued to do well afterwards. The formation of the Isthmus had major consequences on global temperatures, since warm equatorial ocean currents were cut off and an Atlantic cooling cycle began, with cold Arctic and Antarctic waters dropping temperatures in the now-isolated Atlantic Ocean. [27]

Africa's collision with Europe formed the Mediterranean Sea, cutting off the remnants of the Tethys Ocean. The border between the Miocene and the Pliocene is also the time of the Messinian salinity crisis. [28] [29]

The land bridge between Alaska and Siberia (Beringia) was first flooded near the start of the Pliocene, allowing marine organisms to spread between the Arctic and Pacific Oceans. The bridge would continue to be periodically flooded and restored thereafter. [30]

Pliocene marine formations are exposed in northeast Spain, [31] southern California, [32] New Zealand, [33] and Italy. [34]

During the Pliocene parts of southern Norway and southern Sweden that had been near sea level rose. In Norway this rise elevated the Hardangervidda plateau to 1200 m in the Early Pliocene. [35] In Southern Sweden similar movements elevated the South Swedish highlands leading to a deflection of the ancient Eridanos river from its original path across south-central Sweden into a course south of Sweden. [36]

Environment and evolution of human ancestors

The Pliocene is bookended by two significant events in the evolution of human ancestors. The first is the appearance of the hominin Australopithecus anamensis in the early Pliocene, around 4.2 million years ago. [37] [38] [39] The second is the appearance of Homo , the genus that includes modern humans and their closest extinct relatives, near the end of the Pliocene at 2.6 million years ago. [40] Key traits that evolved among hominins during the Pliocene include terrestrial bipedality and, by the end of the Pliocene, encephalized brains (brains with a large neocortex relative to body mass [41] [lower-alpha 1] and stone tool manufacture. [42]

Improvements in dating methods and in the use of climate proxies have provided scientists with the means to test hypotheses of the evolution of human ancestors. [42] [43] Early hypotheses of the evolution of human traits emphasized the selective pressures produced by particular habitats. For example, many scientists have long favored the savannah hypothesis. This proposes that the evolution of terrestrial bipedality and other traits was an adaptive response to Pliocene climate change that transformed forests into more open savannah. This was championed by Grafton Elliot Smith in his 1924 book, The Evolution of Man, as "the unknown world beyond the trees", and was further elaborated by Raymond Dart as the killer ape theory. [44] Other scientists, such as Sherwood L. Washburn, emphasized an intrinsic model of hominin evolution. According to this model, early evolutionary developments triggered later developments. The model placed little emphasis on the surrounding environment. [45] Anthropologists tended to focus on intrinsic models while geologists and vertebrate paleontologists tended to put greater emphasis on habitats. [46]

Alternatives to the savanna hypothesis include the woodland/forest hypothesis, which emphasizes the evolution of hominins in closed habitats, or hypotheses emphasizing the influence of colder habitats at higher latitudes or the influence of seasonal variation. More recent research has emphasized the variability selection hypothesis, which proposes that variability in climate fostered development of hominin traits. [42] Improved climate proxies show that the Pliocene climate of east Africa was highly variable, suggesting that adaptability to varying conditions was more important in driving hominin evolution than the steady pressure of a particular habitat. [41]

Flora

The change to a cooler, drier, more seasonal climate had considerable impacts on Pliocene vegetation, reducing tropical species worldwide. Deciduous forests proliferated, coniferous forests and tundra covered much of the north, and grasslands spread on all continents (except Antarctica). Tropical forests were limited to a tight band around the equator, and in addition to dry savannahs, deserts appeared in Asia and Africa. [47] [ failed verification ]

Fauna

Both marine and continental faunas were essentially modern, although continental faunas were a bit more primitive than today.

The land mass collisions meant great migration and mixing of previously isolated species, such as in the Great American Interchange. Herbivores got bigger, as did specialized predators.

Mammals

19th century artist's impression of a Pliocene landscape Landscape of the Pliocene epoch - showing environment at the time of men's appearance - drawn by Riou.jpg
19th century artist's impression of a Pliocene landscape

In North America, rodents, large mastodons and gomphotheres, and opossums continued successfully, while hoofed animals (ungulates) declined, with camel, deer and horse all seeing populations recede. Three-toed horses ( Nannippus ), oreodonts, protoceratids, and chalicotheres became extinct. Borophagine dogs and Agriotherium became extinct, but other carnivores including the weasel family diversified, and dogs and short-faced bears did well. Ground sloths, huge glyptodonts, and armadillos came north with the formation of the Isthmus of Panama.

In Eurasia rodents did well, while primate distribution declined. Elephants, gomphotheres and stegodonts were successful in Asia (the largest land mammals of the Pliocene were such proboscideans as Deinotherium , Anancus and Mammut borsoni [48] ), and hyraxes migrated north from Africa. Horse diversity declined, while tapirs and rhinos did fairly well. Bovines and antelopes were successful; some camel species crossed into Asia from North America. Hyenas and early saber-toothed cats appeared, joining other predators including dogs, bears and weasels.

Human evolution during the Pliocene
Homo (genus)AustralopithecusArdipithecusParanthropusParanthropus robustusParanthropus boiseiParanthropus aethiopicusHomo erectusHomo habilisAustralopithecus garhiAustralopithecus africanusAustralopithecus bahrelghazaliAustralopithecus afarensisAustralopithecus anamensisPliocene

Africa was dominated by hoofed animals, and primates continued their evolution, with australopithecines (some of the first hominins) and baboon-like monkeys such as the Dinopithecus appearing in the late Pliocene. Rodents were successful, and elephant populations increased. Cows and antelopes continued diversification and overtook pigs in numbers of species. Early giraffes appeared. Horses and modern rhinos came onto the scene. Bears, dogs and weasels (originally from North America) joined cats, hyenas and civets as the African predators, forcing hyenas to adapt as specialized scavengers. Most mustelids in Africa declined as a result of increased competition from the new predators, although Enhydriodon omoensis remained an unusually successful terrestrial predator.

South America was invaded by North American species for the first time since the Cretaceous, with North American rodents and primates mixing with southern forms. Litopterns and the notoungulates, South American natives, were mostly wiped out, except for the macrauchenids and toxodonts, which managed to survive. Small weasel-like carnivorous mustelids, coatis and short-faced bears migrated from the north. Grazing glyptodonts, browsing giant ground sloths and smaller caviomorph rodents, pampatheres, and armadillos did the opposite, migrating to the north and thriving there.

The marsupials remained the dominant Australian mammals, with herbivore forms including wombats and kangaroos, and the huge Diprotodon . Carnivorous marsupials continued hunting in the Pliocene, including dasyurids, the dog-like thylacine and cat-like Thylacoleo . The first rodents arrived in Australia. The modern platypus, a monotreme, appeared.

Birds

Titanis Titanis07DB.jpg
Titanis

The predatory South American phorusrhacids were rare in this time; among the last was Titanis , a large phorusrhacid that migrated to North America and rivaled mammals as top predator. Other birds probably evolved at this time, some modern (such as the genera Cygnus , Bubo , Struthio and Corvus ), some now extinct.

Reptiles and amphibians

Alligators and crocodiles died out in Europe as the climate cooled. Venomous snake genera continued to increase as more rodents and birds evolved. Rattlesnakes first appeared in the Pliocene. The modern species Alligator mississippiensis , having evolved in the Miocene, continued into the Pliocene, except with a more northern range; specimens have been found in very late Miocene deposits of Tennessee. Giant tortoises still thrived in North America, with genera like Hesperotestudo . Madtsoid snakes were still present in Australia. The amphibian order Allocaudata became extinct.

Oceans

Oceans continued to be relatively warm during the Pliocene, though they continued cooling. The Arctic ice cap formed, drying the climate and increasing cool shallow currents in the North Atlantic. Deep cold currents flowed from the Antarctic.

The formation of the Isthmus of Panama about 3.5 million years ago [49] cut off the final remnant of what was once essentially a circum-equatorial current that had existed since the Cretaceous and the early Cenozoic. This may have contributed to further cooling of the oceans worldwide.

The Pliocene seas were alive with sea cows, seals, sea lions and sharks.

Supernovae

In 2002, Narciso Benítez et al. calculated that roughly 2 million years ago, around the end of the Pliocene Epoch, a group of bright O and B stars called the Scorpius–Centaurus OB association passed within 130 light-years of Earth and that one or more supernova explosions gave rise to a feature known as the Local Bubble. [50] Such a close explosion could have damaged the Earth's ozone layer and caused the extinction of some ocean life (at its peak, a supernova of this size could have the same absolute magnitude as an entire galaxy of 200 billion stars). [51] [52] Radioactive iron-60 isotopes that have been found in ancient seabed deposits further back this finding, as there are no natural sources for this radioactive isotope on Earth, but they can be produced in supernovae. [53] Furthermore, iron-60 residues point to a huge spike 2.6 million years ago, but an excess scattered over 10 million years can also be found, suggesting that there may have been multiple, relatively close supernovae. [53]

In 2019, researchers found more of these interstellar iron-60 isotopes in Antarctica, which have been associated with the Local Interstellar Cloud. [54]

See also

Notes

  1. Because of the 2009 reassignment of the Pliocene-Pleistocene boundary from 1.8 to 2.6 million years ago, older papers on Pliocene hominin evolution sometimes include events that would now be regarded as taking place in the early Pleistocene.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cenozoic</span> Third era of the Phanerozoic Eon (66 million years ago to present)

The Cenozoic is Earth's current geological era, representing the last 66 million years of Earth's history. It is characterized by the dominance of mammals, birds and flowering plants, a cooling and drying climate, and the current configuration of continents. It is the latest of three geological eras since complex life evolved, preceded by the Mesozoic and Paleozoic. It started with the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event, when many species, including the non-avian dinosaurs, became extinct in an event attributed by most experts to the impact of a large asteroid or other celestial body, the Chicxulub impactor.

The Miocene is the first geological epoch of the Neogene Period and extends from about 23.03 to 5.333 million years ago (Ma). The Miocene was named by Scottish geologist Charles Lyell; the name comes from the Greek words μείων and καινός and means "less recent" because it has 18% fewer modern marine invertebrates than the Pliocene has. The Miocene is preceded by the Oligocene and is followed by the Pliocene.

The Neogene, informally Upper Tertiary or Late Tertiary, is a geologic period and system that spans 20.45 million years from the end of the Paleogene Period 23.03 million years ago (Mya) to the beginning of the present Quaternary Period 2.58 Mya. The Neogene is sub-divided into two epochs, the earlier Miocene and the later Pliocene. Some geologists assert that the Neogene cannot be clearly delineated from the modern geological period, the Quaternary. The term "Neogene" was coined in 1853 by the Austrian palaeontologist Moritz Hörnes (1815–1868).

The Oligocene is a geologic epoch of the Paleogene Period and extends from about 33.9 million to 23 million years before the present. As with other older geologic periods, the rock beds that define the epoch are well identified but the exact dates of the start and end of the epoch are slightly uncertain. The name Oligocene was coined in 1854 by the German paleontologist Heinrich Ernst Beyrich from his studies of marine beds in Belgium and Germany. The name comes from the Ancient Greek ὀλίγος and καινός, and refers to the sparsity of extant forms of molluscs. The Oligocene is preceded by the Eocene Epoch and is followed by the Miocene Epoch. The Oligocene is the third and final epoch of the Paleogene Period.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Pleistocene</span> First epoch of the Quaternary Period

The Pleistocene is the geological epoch that lasted from about 2,580,000 to 11,700 years ago, spanning the Earth's most recent period of repeated glaciations. Before a change was finally confirmed in 2009 by the International Union of Geological Sciences, the cutoff of the Pleistocene and the preceding Pliocene was regarded as being 1.806 million years Before Present (BP). Publications from earlier years may use either definition of the period. The end of the Pleistocene corresponds with the end of the last glacial period and also with the end of the Paleolithic age used in archaeology. The name is a combination of Ancient Greek πλεῖστος, pleīstos, 'most' and καινός, kainós, 'new'.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Phanerozoic</span> Fourth and current eon of the geological timescale

The Phanerozoic Eon is the current geologic eon in the geologic time scale, and the one during which abundant animal and plant life has existed. It covers 538.8 million years to the present, and it began with the Cambrian Period, when animals first developed hard shells preserved in the fossil record. The time before the Phanerozoic, called the Precambrian, is now divided into the Hadean, Archaean and Proterozoic eons.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Quaternary</span> Third and current period of the Cenozoic Era, from 2.58 million years ago to the present

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Great American Interchange</span> Paleozoographic event resulting from the formation of the Isthmus of Panama

The Great American Biotic Interchange, also known as the Great American Interchange and the Great American Faunal Interchange, was an important late Cenozoic paleozoogeographic biotic interchange event in which land and freshwater fauna migrated from North America via Central America to South America and vice versa, as the volcanic Isthmus of Panama rose up from the sea floor and bridged the formerly separated continents. Although earlier dispersals had occurred, probably over water, the migration accelerated dramatically about 2.7 million years (Ma) ago during the Piacenzian age. It resulted in the joining of the Neotropic and Nearctic biogeographic realms definitively to form the Americas. The interchange is visible from observation of both biostratigraphy and nature (neontology). Its most dramatic effect is on the zoogeography of mammals, but it also gave an opportunity for reptiles, amphibians, arthropods, weak-flying or flightless birds, and even freshwater fish to migrate. Coastal and marine biota, however, was affected in the opposite manner; the formation of the Central American Isthmus caused what has been termed the Great American Schism, with significant diversification and extinction occurring as a result of the isolation of the Caribbean from the Pacific.

The Piacenzian is in the international geologic time scale the upper stage or latest age of the Pliocene. It spans the time between 3.6 ± 0.005 Ma and 2.588 ± 0.005 Ma. The Piacenzian is after the Zanclean and is followed by the Gelasian.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Late Pleistocene</span> Third division (unofficial) of the Pleistocene Epoch

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Quaternary glaciation</span> Series of alternating glacial and interglacial periods

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Pliocene climate</span>

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