Predatory synapsid ecomorphology signals growing dynamism of late Palaeozoic terrestrial ecosystems



AbstractTerrestrial ecosystems evolved substantially through the Palaeozoic, especially the Permian, gaining much new complexity, especially among predators. Key among these predators were non-mammalian synapsids. Predator ecomorphology reflects interactions with prey and competitors, which are key controls on carnivore diversity and ecology. Therefore, carnivorous synapsids may offer insight into wider ecological evolution as the first complex, tetrapod-dominated, terrestrial ecosystems formed through the late Palaeozoic. Using morphometric and phylogenetic comparative methods, we chart carnivorous synapsid trophic morphology from the latest Carboniferous to the earliest Triassic (307-251.2 Ma). We find a major morphofunctional shift in synapsid carnivory between the early and middle Permian, via the addition of new feeding modes increasingly specialised for greater biting power or speed that captures the growing antagonism and dynamism of terrestrial tetrapod predator-prey interactions. The further evolution of new hypo- and hypercarnivorous synapsids highlights the nascent intrinsic pressures and complexification of terrestrial ecosystems across the mid-late Permian.
Date made available5 Mar 2024

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