Miocene Mammals and Central American Seaways

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Science  09 Apr 1965:
Vol. 148, Issue 3667, pp. 180-185
DOI: 10.1126/science.148.3667.180

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The presence of Miocene mammals of North American affinity in the Panama Canal Zone indicates that Central America was attached to North America. That this attachment was a broad and stable land mass is shown by the close relation of the Panama Miocene herbivores to the widely distributed Miocene herbivore fauna of North America. A continuous connection existed probably throughout the Tertiary, to the west and north of the isthmian region, but the tectonically active isthmus probably was broken up into an archipelago during most of Tertiary time. Between the islands ran the Strait of Panama; from time to time parts of the isthmian area were connected to the stable land to the west, allowing eastward migration of land animals. The mammals of North American affinity in the Cucaracha Formation were found only a few kilometers from the western end of the San Blas Area, a stable land mass in eastern Panama that was separated from South America by the Bolivar Trough during most of the interval between Oligocene and Pliocene time (16). The Strait of Panama was a less stable barrier than the Bolivar Trough; this being so, it is likely that the San Blas Area was inhabited by land animals of North American rather than South American affinity. Thus, the disappearance of the Bolivar seaway in Pliocene time would have allowed, probably for the first time, mingling of the North and South American mammal faunas.