Shifts in food webs and niche stability shaped survivorship and extinction at the end-Cretaceous

Jorge García-Girón, Alfio Alessandro Chiarenza, Janne Alahuhta, David G. DeMar Jr, Jani Heino, Philip D. Mannion, Thomas E. Williamson, Gregory P. Wilson Mantilla, Steve Brusatte

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

It has long been debated why groups such as non-avian dinosaurs became extinct whereas mammals and other lineages survived the Cretaceous/Paleogene mass extinction 66 million years ago. We used Markov networks, ecological niche partitioning, and Earth System models to reconstruct North American food webs and simulate ecospace occupancy before and after the extinction event. We find a shift in latest Cretaceous dinosaur faunas, as medium-sized species counterbalanced a loss of megaherbivores, but dinosaur niches were otherwise stable and static, potentially contributing to their demise. Smaller vertebrates, including mammals, followed a consistent trajectory of increasing trophic impact and relaxation of niche limits beginning in the latest Cretaceous and continuing after the mass extinction. Mammals did not simply proliferate after the extinction event; rather, their earlier ecological diversification might have helped them survive.
Original languageEnglish
JournalScience Advances
Issue number49
Publication statusPublished - 7 Dec 2022


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