Following nicely this week’s Kurten club discussion about environmental impact vs. biotic interactions…
Dinosaurs grew to outpace their young
Some dinosaurs grew to gigantic sizes to avoid competition from their own young, rather than to take advantage of abundant oxygen, high temperatures and large territorial ranges, say two studies. But their largeness may also have proved their undoing.
Biology, not environment, drives major patterns in maximum tetrapod body size through time
Roland B. Sookias, Roger B. J. Benson, Richard J. Butler
Abiotic and biological factors have been hypothesized as controlling maximum body size of tetrapods and other animals through geological time. We analyse the effects of three abiotic factors—oxygen, temperature and land area—on maximum size of Permian–Jurassic archosauromorphs and therapsids, and Cenozoic mammals, using time series generalized least-squares regression models. We also examine maximum size growth curves for the Permian–Jurassic data by comparing fits of Gompertz and logistic models. When serial correlation is removed, we find no robust correlations, indicating that these environmental factors did not consistently control tetrapod maximum size. Gompertz models—i.e. exponentially decreasing rate of size increase at larger sizes—fit maximum size curves far better than logistic models. This suggests that biological limits such as reduced fecundity and niche space availability become increasingly limiting as larger sizes are reached. Environmental factors analysed may still have imposed an upper limit on tetrapod body size, but any environmentally imposed limit did not vary substantially during the intervals examined despite variation in these environmental factors.
Ontogenetic niche shifts in dinosaurs influenced size, diversity and extinction in terrestrial vertebrates
Daryl Codron, Chris Carbone, Dennis W. H. Müller, Marcus Clauss
Given the physiological limits to egg size, large-bodied non-avian dinosaurs experienced some of the most extreme shifts in size during postnatal ontogeny found in terrestrial vertebrate systems. In contrast, mammals—the other dominant vertebrate group since the Mesozoic—have less complex ontogenies. Here, we develop a model that quantifies the impact of size-specific interspecies competition on abundances of differently sized dinosaurs and mammals, taking into account the extended niche breadth realized during ontogeny among large oviparous species. Our model predicts low diversity at intermediate size classes (between approx. 1 and 1000 kg), consistent with observed diversity distributions of dinosaurs, and of Mesozoic land vertebrates in general. It also provides a mechanism—based on an understanding of different ecological and evolutionary constraints across vertebrate groups—that explains how mammals and birds, but not dinosaurs, were able to persist beyond the Cretaceous–Tertiary (K–T) boundary, and how post-K–T mammals were able to diversify into larger size categories.