Quantitative assessment of tarsal morphology illuminates locomotor behaviour in Paleocene mammals following the end-Cretaceous mass extinction

Sarah Shelley, Steve Brusatte, Thomas E. Williamson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Mammals exhibit vast ecological diversity, including a panoply of locomotor behaviours. The foundations of this diversity were established in the Mesozoic, but it was only after the end-Cretaceous mass extinction that mammals began to increase in body size, diversify into many new species and establish the extant orders. Little is known about the palaeobiology of the mammals that diversified immediately after the extinction during the Palaeocene, which are often perceived as ‘archaic’ precursors to extant orders. Here, we investigate the locomotor ecology of Palaeocene mammals using multivariate and disparity analyses. We show that tarsal measurements can be used to infer locomotor mode in extant mammals, and then demonstrate that Palaeocene mammals occupy distinctive regions of tarsal morphospace relative to Cretaceous and extant therian mammals, that is distinguished by their morphological robustness. We find that many Palaeocene species exhibit tarsal morphologies most comparable with morphologies of extant ground-dwelling mammals. Disparity analyses indicate that Palaeocene mammals attained similar morphospace diversity to the extant sample. Our results show that mammals underwent a post-extinction adaptive radiation in tarsal morphology relating to locomotor behaviour by combining a basic eutherian bauplan with anatomical specializations to attain considerable ecomorphological diversity.
Original languageEnglish
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 12 May 2021

Fingerprint

Dive into the research topics of 'Quantitative assessment of tarsal morphology illuminates locomotor behaviour in Paleocene mammals following the end-Cretaceous mass extinction'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this