Field of Science

The Early Evolution of Synapsids

Brocklehurst, N., Kammerer, C. F., and J. Frobisch. 2013. The early evolution of synapsids, and the influence of sampling on their fossil record. Paleobiology 39:470-490. DOI: 10.1666/12049

Abstract - Synapsids dominated the terrestrial realm between the late Pennsylvanian and the Triassic.
Their early evolution includes some of the first amniotes to evolve large size, herbivory, and macropredators. However, little research has focused on the changes in diversity occurring during this early phase in their evolutionary history, with more effort concentrating on later events such the Permo-Triassic extinction. Here we assess synapsid diversity, at both the species and genus levels, between the Carboniferous (Moscovian) and the Middle Permian (Capitanian). A raw, taxic diversity (richness) estimate is generated, and we use two separate methods to correct for sampling biases in this curve. To remove the effect of anthropogenic sampling bias, we apply a recently published modification of the residual diversity method, and then generate a supertree, using matrix representation with parsimony to infer ghost lineages and obtain a phylogenetic diversity estimate. The general diversity pattern reflects the initial diversification of synapsids in the late Pennsylvanian and early Cisuralian, which was followed by an extinction event during the Sakmarian. Diversity recovered during the Artinskian and Kungurian, coinciding with the radiation of Caseidae, although other families begin to decline. A second extinction event occurred across the Kungurian/Roadian boundary, in which Edaphosauridae and Ophiacodontidae died out although Caseidae and Therapsida diversified. The sampling-corrected curves reveal further extinction during the Roadian, although therapsids were again unaffected. Pelycosaurian-grade synapsids survived during the Wordian and Capitanian, but were a minor part of an otherwise therapsid-dominated fauna. Evidence of significant anthropogenic sampling bias calls
into question previous diversity studies that have not employed sampling correction.

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