Niche partitioning shaped herbivore macroevolution through the early Mesozoic

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Abstract

The Triassic (252–201 Ma) marks a major punctuation in Earth history, when ecosystems rebuilt themselves following the devastating Permian-Triassic mass extinction. Herbivory evolved independently several times as ecosystems comprising diverse assemblages of therapsids, parareptiles and archosauromorphs rose and fell, leading to a world dominated by dinosaurs. It was assumed that dinosaurs prevailed either through long-term competitive replacement of the incumbent clades or rapidly and opportunistically following one or more extinction events. Here we use functional morphology and ecology to explore herbivore morphospace through the Triassic and Early Jurassic. We identify five main herbivore guilds (ingestion generalists, prehension specialists, durophagous specialists, shearing pulpers, and heavy oral processors), and find that herbivore clades generally avoided competition by almost exclusively occupying different guilds. Major ecosystem remodelling was triggered multiple times by external environmental challenges, and previously dominant herbivores were marginalised by newly emerging forms. Dinosaur dominance was a mix of opportunity following disaster, combined with competitive advantage in their new world.
Original languageEnglish
JournalNature Communications
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 23 Mar 2021

Keywords

  • Macroevolution
  • Palaeobiology
  • Palaeoecology
  • Biomechanics

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