Field of Science

Morphological and Biomechanical Disparity of Crocodile-line Archosaurs Following the End-Triassic Extinction

This article is open access. I'm assuming that in using 'crurotarsan' they are using Paul Sereno's original definition and not the clade including Avemetatarsalia as recovered by Nesbitt (2011). 

Stubb, T. L., Pierce, S. E., Rayfield, E. J., and P. S. L. Anderson. 2013. Morphological and biomechanical disparity of crocodile-line archosaurs following the end-Triassic extinction. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 280 no. 1770 20131940 doi: 10.1098/rspb.2013.1940
 
Abstract - Mesozoic crurotarsans exhibited diverse morphologies and feeding modes, representing considerable ecological diversity, yet macroevolutionary patterns remain unexplored. Here, we use a unique combination of morphological and biomechanical disparity metrics to quantify the ecological diversity and trophic radiations of Mesozoic crurotarsans, using the mandible as a morpho-functional proxy. We recover three major trends. First, the diverse assemblage of Late Triassic crurotarsans was morphologically and biomechanically disparate, implying high levels of ecological variation; but, following the end-Triassic extinction, disparity declined. Second, the Jurassic radiation of marine thalattosuchians resulted in very low morphological disparity but moderate variation in jaw biomechanics, highlighting a hydrodynamic constraint on mandibular form. Third, during the Cretaceous terrestrial radiations of neosuchians and notosuchians, mandibular morphological variation increased considerably. By the Late Cretaceous, crocodylomorphs evolved a range of morphologies equalling Late Triassic crurotarsans. By contrast, biomechanical disparity in the Cretaceous did not increase, essentially decoupling from morphology. This enigmatic result could be attributed to biomechanical evolution in other anatomical regions (e.g. cranium, dentition or postcranium), possibly releasing the mandible from selective pressures. Overall, our analyses reveal a complex relationship between morphological and biomechanical disparity in Mesozoic crurotarsans that culminated in specialized feeding ecologies and associated lifestyles.

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