Might be of interest to some of you…
Might be of interest to some of you…
Basically, everything from the Royal Society is open access until Nov. 6.
The impact of large terrestrial carnivores on Pleistocene ecosystems
Large mammalian terrestrial herbivores, such as elephants, have dramatic effects on the ecosystems they inhabit and at high population densities their environmental impacts can be devastating. Pleistocene terrestrial ecosystems included a much greater diversity of megaherbivores (e.g., mammoths, mastodons, giant ground sloths) and thus a greater potential for widespread habitat degradation if population sizes were not limited. Nevertheless, based on modern observations, it is generally believed that populations of megaherbivores (>800 kg) are largely immune to the effects of predation and this perception has been extended into the Pleistocene. However, as shown here, the species richness of big carnivores was greater in the Pleistocene and many of them were significantly larger than their modern counterparts. Fossil evidence suggests that interspecific competition among carnivores was relatively intense and reveals that some individuals specialized in consuming megaherbivores. To estimate the potential impact of Pleistocene large carnivores, we use both historic and modern data on predator–prey body mass relationships to predict size ranges of their typical and maximum prey when hunting as individuals and in groups. These prey size ranges are then compared with estimates of juvenile and subadult proboscidean body sizes derived from extant elephant growth data. Young proboscideans at their most vulnerable age fall within the predicted prey size ranges of many of the Pleistocene carnivores. Predation on juveniles can have a greater impact on megaherbivores because of their long interbirth intervals, and consequently, we argue that Pleistocene carnivores had the capacity to, and likely did, limit megaherbivore population sizes.
GrrlScientist (of the Guardian, among other things) and BiK-F / Senckenberg are doing an interesting reading experiment:
Discussion of the first chapter online:
Glaciers are retreating and predatory invertebrates rapidly colonize deglaciated, barren ground. The paradox of establishing predators before plants and herbivores has been explained by wind-driven input of invertebrate prey. Here we present an alternative explanation and a novel glacier foreland food web by showing that pioneer predators eat locally produced midges containing 21,000 years old ancient carbon released by the melting glacier. Ancient carbon was assimilated by aquatic midge larvae, and terrestrial adults achieved a radiocarbon age of 1040 years. Terrestrial spiders, harvestmen and beetles feeding on adult midges had radiocarbon ages of 340–1100 years. Water beetles assumed to eat midge larvae reached radiocarbon ages of 1100–1200 years. Because both aquatic and terrestrial pioneer communities use ancient carbon, the term “primary succession” is questionable in glacier forelands. If our “old” invertebrates had been collected as subfossils and radiocarbon dated, their age would have been overestimated by up to 1100 years.
Latest by Polly…
Fossil discoveries over the past 30 years have radically transformed traditional views of Mesozoic mammal evolution. In addition, recent research provides a more detailed account of the Cretaceous diversification of flowering plants. Here, we examine patterns of morphological disparity and functional morphology associated with diet in early mammals. Two analyses were performed: (i) an examination of diversity based on functional dental type rather than higher-level taxonomy, and (ii) a morphometric analysis of jaws, which made use of modern analogues, to assess changes in mammalian morphological and dietary disparity. Results demonstrate a decline in diversity of molar types during the mid-Cretaceous as abundances of triconodonts, symmetrodonts, docodonts and eupantotherians diminished. Multituberculates experience a turnover in functional molar types during the mid-Cretaceous and a shift towards plant-dominated diets during the late Late Cretaceous. Although therians undergo a taxonomic expansion coinciding with the angiosperm radiation, they display small body sizes and a low level of morphological disparity, suggesting an evolutionary shift favouring small insectivores. It is concluded that during the mid-Cretaceous, the period of rapid angiosperm radiation, mammals experienced both a decrease in morphological disparity and a functional shift in dietary morphology that were probably related to changing ecosystems.
There is a blog entry (John Hawks), the PNAS paper is not yet out. But looks promising…