The Oligocene is often considered an important time of transition, a link between the archaic world of the tropical Eocene and the more modern ecosystems of the Miocene. Major changes during the Oligocene included a global expansion of grasslands, and a regression of tropical broad leaf forests to the equatorial belt.
The start of the Oligocene is marked by a notable extinction event called the Grande Coupure; it featured the replacement of European fauna with Asian fauna, except for the endemic rodent and marsupial families. By contrast, the Oligocene–Miocene boundary is not set at an easily identified worldwide event but rather at regional boundaries between the warmer late Oligocene and the relatively cooler Miocene.
Oligocene faunal stages from youngest to oldest are:
The Paleogene Period general temperature decline is interrupted by an Oligocene 7-million-year stepwise climate change. A deeper 8.2 °C, 400,000-year temperature depression leads the 2 °C, seven-million-year stepwise climate change 33.5 Ma (million years ago). The stepwise climate change began 32.5 Ma and lasted through to 25.5 Ma, as depicted in the PaleoTemps chart. The Oligocene climate change was a global increase in ice volume and a 55 m (181 feet) decrease in sea level (35.7–33.5 Ma) with a closely related (25.5–32.5 Ma) temperature depression. The 7-million-year depression abruptly terminated within 1–2 million years of the La Garita Caldera eruption at 28–26 Ma. A deep 400,000-year glaciated Oligocene Miocene boundary event is recorded at McMurdo Sound and King George Island.