Evaluating the relative importance of biotic versus abiotic factors in governing macroevolutionary patterns is a central question of paleobiology. Here, we analyzed patterns of changes in global relative abundances and diversity of ecological groups to infer the role of biological interactions as driving evolutionary forces in mid-Mesozoic macrobenthic marine ecosystems. Specifically, we tested the hypothesis of escalation, which states that macroevolutionary patterns were controlled by an increasing pressure exerted by enemies on their victims. Associated with evidence of increasing levels of predation and biogenic sediment reworking (bulldozing) is an increasing representation of predation- and disturbance-resistant groups in the fossil record. In particular, we observe increasing proportions of mobile organisms; a decline of vulnerable epifauna living freely on the substrate; and a trend toward infaunalization of the benthos. These trends were most pronounced in the paleotropics, i.e., the region where biological activity is thought to have been highest. The observation that these changes affected several biotic traits and occurred within independent clades argues against the overriding role of a single key adaptive innovation in causing shifts in ecological abundance. Also, changes in the abiotic environment cannot explain these faunal patterns because of lacking cross-correlations with physico-chemical parameters such as global sea level, climate, and seawater chemistry. We conclude that in marine benthic ecosystems of the mid Mesozoic, enemy-driven evolution, or escalation, was a plausible and important factor.
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Vol. 32 • No. 2