First off, what’s a conifer?
Secondly, what does it have to do with cats?
Well, long before modern cats evolved in the Miocene, the world was a lot warmer and wetter, perhaps not as tropical as it was right after the non-avian dinosaurs went away at the end of the Cretaceous, but still a greenhouse.
That changed. Bits and pieces of Antarctica iced over, and global climate cooled. Since warm air can hold more moisture, this cooling meant that the world got drier, too.
Forests became more subtropical, though things were still generally warmer than today.
During the Miocene, the planet once again cooled, though ice ages were not yet a thing.
Some experts attribute the resulting environmental changes in North America to a rain shadow that formed as western mountain chains rose, but Lyle et al. note that not only was drying a worldwide phenomenon, it also affected lands on the coastal side of those mountains.
In Eurasia, early cats now had woodland/savanna zones where they could develop their stalk-and-ambush skills.
North America’s sequoias disappeared from most of their range. Nevertheless, today they and other western conifers hold sway where summers are too dry for broad-leaved trees to survive.
It’s still a beautiful, though no longer subtropical, place.
Featured image: Brewbooks, CC BY-SA 2.0.
Akhmetiev, M. A., and Beniamovski, V. N. 2009. Paleogene floral assemblages around epicontinental seas and straits in Northern Central Eurasia: proxies for climatic and paleogeographic evolution. Geologica Acta, 7(12):297–309.
Lyle, M.; Barron, J.; Bralower, T. J.; Huber, M.; and others. 2008. Pacific Ocean and Cenozoic evolution of climate. Reviews of Geophysics. 46: RG2002.
Martin, L. D. 1998. Felidae, in Evolution of Tertiary Mammals of North America, ed. Janis, C. M., Scott, K. M., and Jacobs, L. L. 1:236-242. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Zachos, J.; Pagani, M.; Sloan, L.; Thomas, E.; and Billups, K. 2001. Trends, rhythms, and aberrations in global climate 65 Ma to present. Science, 292: 686–693.