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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.
|Journal||Proceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences|
|Publication status||Published - 12 May 2021|
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