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Global ecomorphological restructuring of dominant marine reptiles prior to the K/Pg mass extinction

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Abstract

Mosasaurid squamates were the dominant amniote predators in marine ecosystems during most of the Late Cretaceous. Evidence from multiple sites worldwide of a global mosasaurid community restructuring across the Campanian–Maastrichtian transition may have wide-ranging implications for the evolution of diversity of these top oceanic predators. In this study, we use a suite of biomechanical traits and functionally descriptive ratios to investigate how the morphofunctional disparity of mosasaurids evolved through time and space prior to the Cretaceous-Palaeogene (K/Pg) mass extinction. Our results suggest that the worldwide taxonomic turnover in mosasaurid community composition from Campanian to Maastrichtian is reflected by a notable increase in morphofunctional disparity on a global scale, but especially driven the North American record. Ecomorphospace occupation becomes more polarised during the late Maastrichtian, as the morphofunctional disparity of mosasaurids plateaus in the Southern Hemisphere and decreases in the Northern Hemisphere. We show that these changes are not associated with strong modifications in mosasaurid size, but rather with the functional capacities of their skulls, and that mosasaurid morphofunctional disparity was in decline in several provincial communities before the K-Pg mass extinction. Our study highlights region-specific patterns of disparity evolution, and the importance of assessing vertebrate extinctions both globally and regionally. Ecomorphological differentiation in mosasaurid communities, coupled with declines in other formerly abundant marine reptile groups, indicates widespread restructuring of higher trophic levels in marine food webs was well underway when the K-Pg mass extinction took place.
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mnhn-03861682 , version 1 (21-11-2022)

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Jamie Maclaren, Rebecca Bennion, Nathalie Bardet, Valentin Fischer. Global ecomorphological restructuring of dominant marine reptiles prior to the K/Pg mass extinction. 2022. ⟨mnhn-03861682⟩
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