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Sabertooth members of the Felidae, Nimravidae, and Barbourofelidae are well-known for their elongated saber-shaped canines. However, within these groups, there is a wide range of independently derived tooth shapes and lengths, including dirk-tooth and scimitar-tooth morphs. In conjunction with the saberteeth, forelimbs were also used to subdue prey. Thus, there may be a functional link between canine shape and forelimb morphology. Because there are no living sabertooth forms for comparison, extant felids make a good proxy for examining the morphology of these extinct organisms. Here, I examine the forelimb morphology of different sabertooth groups from across North America; I address whether forelimb morphologies are associated with tooth morphologies, and whether these associated tooth and forelimb morphologies are convergent among different families. To answer these questions, I analyzed six functional indices of the forelimbs and two canine characters for 13 species of sabertooth predators and 15 extant felid species. Results indicate that sabertooth morphs with longer, thinner canines show more robust limb proportions. These patterns were convergent among sabertooth felids, nimravids, and barbourofelids, and indicate a positive functional relationship between saber elongation and increased forelimb robustness. This suggests that sabertooth carnivorans demonstrated niche partitioning of predation strategies according to canine shape and corresponding forelimb morphology.
The study of spatial patterns in biotic compositional variability in deep time is key to understanding the macroecological response of species assemblages to global change. Globally warm climatic phases are marked by the expansion of megathermal climates into currently extra-tropical areas. However, there is currently little information on whether vegetation in these “paratropical” regions resembled spatially modern tropical or extra-tropical biomes. In this paper we explore spatial heterogeneity in extra-tropical megathermal vegetation, using sporomorph (pollen and spore) data from the late Paleocene Calvert Bluff and Tuscahoma Formations of the formerly paratropical U.S. Gulf Coast (Texas, Mississippi, and Alabama). The data set comprises 139 sporomorph taxa recorded from 56 samples. Additive diversity partitioning, nonmetric multidimensional scaling, and cluster analysis show compositional heterogeneity both spatially and lithologically within the U.S. Gulf Coastal Plain (GCP) microflora. We then use sporomorph data from Holocene lake cores to compare spatial patterns in the late Paleocene GCP with modern tropical and extra-tropical biomes. Distance decay analysis of the Holocene data reveals a higher rate of spatial turnover in tropical versus extra-tropical vegetation types, consistent with a latitudinal gradient in floral compositional heterogeneity. The specific combination of rate and scale dependency of distance decay in the Holocene assemblages prevented us from associating the late Paleocene GCP with any particular modern biome. Our results demonstrate the importance of spatial scale, taphonomy, and lithology in determining patterns of spatial heterogeneity, and show the potential of the fossil sporomorph record for studying spatial patterns and processes in deep time.
The role of antagonistic organismal interactions in the production of long-term macroevolutionary trends has been debated for decades. Some evidence seems to suggest that temporal trends in predation frequency share a common causative mechanism with genus-level diversity, whereas studies on the role of parasites in “shaping” the evolutionary process are rare indeed. Digenean trematodes (Phylum Platyhelminthes) infest molluscs in at least one stage of their complex life cycle. Trematodes leave characteristic oval-shaped pits with raised rims on the interior of their bivalve hosts, and these pits are preserved in the fossil record. Here we survey 11,785 valves from the Pleistocene–Holocene deposits of the Po Plain and from nearby modern coastal environments on the northeast Adriatic coast of Italy. Of these, 205 valves exhibited trematode-induced pits. Trematodes were selective parasites in terms of host taxonomy and host body size. Infestation was restricted to lower shoreface/transition-to-platform paleoenvironments. During the Holocene, individuals from the transgressive systems tract were significantly more likely to be infested than those from highstand systems tracts. Temporal trends in infestation frequency cannot be explained as an ecological/evolutionary phenomenon (e.g., the hypothesis of escalation); instead the trend seems controlled by environmental variation induced by glacio-eustatic sea-level changes and inadequate sampling. Because this interaction appears to be ephemeral, both temporally and spatially, it is not likely that any selective pressure would be continuous over geologic time in this region. Furthermore, these results support the hypothesis that antagonistic interactions are lower in the northern Adriatic Sea in comparison to other midlatitude shallow marine settings.
Fish scales accumulating in marine laminated sediments can provide a record of population variability of small pelagic fishes. Although some studies have noted signs of scale degradation that could affect estimates of population variability, there are presently no well-developed means to evaluate degradation. We developed several indices as indicators of fish scale preservation in two box-cores that we collected off Pisco (14°S), one at 301 m near the center of the oxygen minimum zone (OMZ), and the other at 201 m near the upper limit of the OMZ. These indices include (1) an index of fish scale integrity (estimate of scale wholeness relative to fragmentation), (2) the fungi-free area of fish scales and vertebrae, (3) the ratio of fish scales to vertebrae (as well as fish scales to vertebrae and bones), and (4) the ratio of whole scales to fragments. We address whether lower numbers of anchovy scales occurring in association with reduced total organic carbon fluxes and higher bottom-water oxygen concentrations are due entirely to lower abundances of anchovy or whether differential preservation of the fish scales in the sediments plays an important role in reduced scale abundances. Comparison of temporal sequences between the two cores provides the means to assess whether there are differences in the preservation of fish scales. The combined indices indicate that the lower numbers of fish scales in the earliest period have been affected by degradation, and to a greater degree in the box-core from 201 meters, which can be subject to higher oxygen concentrations. On the other hand, decadal-scale variations in fish scale abundance within the period of better preservation are unlikely to be caused by degradation. We discuss the utility and drawbacks of different indices of preservation for reconstructing past changes in fish population sizes with fluxes of fish debris and also briefly discuss the utility of these indices to other paleobiological systems.
Mesozoic tooth marks on bone surfaces directly link consumers to fossil assemblage formation. Striated tooth marks are believed to form by theropod denticle contact, and attempts have been made to identify theropod consumers by comparing these striations with denticle widths of contemporaneous taxa. The purpose of this study is to test whether ziphodont theropod consumer characteristics can be accurately identified from striated tooth marks on fossil surfaces. We had three major objectives (1) to experimentally produce striated tooth marks and explain how they form; (2) to determine whether body size characteristics are reflected in denticle widths; and (3) to determine whether denticle characters are accurately transcribed onto bone surfaces in the form of striated tooth marks. We conducted controlled feeding trials with the dental analogue Varanus komodoensis (the Komodo monitor). Goat (Capra hircus) carcasses were introduced to captive, isolated individuals. Striated tooth marks were then identified, and striation width, number, and degree of convergence were recorded for each. Denticle widths and tooth/body size characters were taken from photographs and published accounts of both theropod and V. komodoensis skeletal material, and regressions were compared among and between the two groups. Striated marks tend to be regularly striated with a variable degree of branching, and may co-occur with scores. Striation morphology directly reflects contact between the mesial carina and bone surfaces during the rostral reorientation when defleshing. Denticle width is influenced primarily by tooth size, and correlates well with body size, displaying negative allometry in both groups regardless of taxon or position. When compared, striation widths fall within or below the range of denticle widths extrapolated for similar-sized V. komodoensis individuals. Striation width is directly influenced by the orientation of the carina during feeding, and may underestimate but cannot overestimate denticle width. Although body size can theoretically be estimated solely by a striated tooth mark under ideal circumstances, many caveats should be considered. These include the influence of negative allometry across taxa and throughout ontogeny, the existence of theropods with extreme denticle widths, and the potential for striations to underestimate denticle widths. This method may be useful under specific circumstances, especially for establishing a lower limit body size for potential consumers.
Integration between phylogenetic systematics and paleontological data has proved to be an effective method for identifying periods that lack fossil evidence in the evolutionary history of clades. In this study we aim to analyze whether there is any correlation between various ecomorphological variables and the duration of these underrepresented portions of lineages, which we call ghost lineages for simplicity, in ruminants. Analyses within phylogenetic (Generalized Estimating Equations) and non-phylogenetic (ANOVAs and Pearson correlations) frameworks were performed on the whole phylogeny of this suborder of Cetartiodactyla (Mammalia). This is the first time ghost lineages are focused in this way. To test the robustness of our data, we compared the magnitude of ghost lineages among different continents and among phylogenies pruned at different ages (4, 8, 12, 16, and 20 Ma). Differences in mean ghost lineage were not significantly related to either geographic or temporal factors. Our results indicate that the proportion of the known fossil record in ruminants appears to be influenced by the preservation potential of the bone remains in different environments. Furthermore, large geographical ranges of species increase the likelihood of preservation.
Improvements in the perceived completeness of the fossil record may be driven both by new discoveries and by reinterpretation of known fossils, but disentangling the relative effects of these processes can be difficult. Here, we propose a new methodology for evaluating historical trends in the perceived completeness of the fossil record, demonstrate its implementation using the freely available software ASCC (version 4.0.0), and present an example using crown-group birds (Aves). Dates of discovery and recognition for the oldest fossil representatives of 75 major lineages of birds were collected for the historical period ranging from 1910 to 2010. Using a comprehensive phylogeny, we calculated minimum implied stratigraphic gaps (MIG range) across these 75 lineages. Our results show that a reduction in global MIG values of 1.35 Ga (billion years) occurred over the past century in avian paleontology. A pronounced increase in the average rate of global MIG reduction is noted in the post-1970s interval (290.5 Myr per decade) compared to the pre-1970s interval (31.9 Myr per decade). Although the majority of the improvement in the fossil record of birds has come from new discoveries, substantial improvement (∼22.5%) has resulted from restudy and phylogenetic revision of previously described fossils over the last 40 years. With a minimum estimate indicating that at least 1.34 Gyr of gaps remain to be filled between the predicted and observed first appearances of major lineages of crown Aves, there is much progress to be made. However, a notable tapering off in the rate of global MIG reduction occurs between 1990 and 2010, suggesting we may be approaching an asymptote of oldest record discoveries for birds. Only future observations can determine whether this is a real pattern or a historical anomaly. Either way, barring the discovery of fossils that substantially push back the minimum age for the origin of crown-clade Aves, new discoveries cannot continue to reduce global MIG values at the average post-1970s rate over the long term.
Fossil specimens can be recovered easily only from exposed localities, so rock exposure area should represent a better proxy for rock availability than the frequently used outcrop (i.e., map) area. Data collected via remote sensing and GIS show that map area does not consistently correlate with exposure area in different regions. Proportional rock exposure is not geographically consistent and is influenced by a number of variables that are independent of outcrop area, including proximity to the coast, elevation, bedrock age, land use and lithology. These variables appear to be non-independent in their influence on rock exposure, and are not consistent in their effects across continents. The inconsistency in the correlation between outcrop and exposure area, and the variability in the influence of different factors on rock exposure, suggests that using outcrop area as a sampling proxy is poorly supported. The weaknesses in using outcrop area as a sampling proxy, highlighted by the lack of correlation with exposure area, suggest that a single accurate global sampling proxy may never be attained and it is premature to assume that paleodiversity curves can be corrected using such proxies. It is therefore preferable to work on a regional scale, comparing regional fossil collection data with a number of proxies representing all aspects of sampling. The lack of correlation between outcrop and exposure area suggests that the covariance detected between outcrop area and paleodiversity might be better explained by a common-cause model, and that geological megabiases may not have had as profound an effect on paleodiversity curves as previously thought.
The deep-sea microfossil record is characterized by an extraordinarily high density and abundance of fossil specimens, and by a very high degree of spatial and temporal continuity of sedimentation. This record provides a unique opportunity to study evolution at the species level for entire clades of organisms. Compilations of deep-sea microfossil species occurrences are, however, affected by reworking of material, age model errors, and taxonomic uncertainties, all of which combine to displace a small fraction of the recorded occurrence data both forward and backwards in time, extending total stratigraphic ranges for taxa. These data outliers introduce substantial errors into both biostratigraphic and evolutionary analyses of species occurrences over time. We propose a simple method—Pacman—to identify and remove outliers from such data, and to identify problematic samples or sections from which the outlier data have derived. The method consists of, for a large group of species, compiling species occurrences by time and marking as outliers calibrated fractions of the youngest and oldest occurrence data for each species. A subset of biostratigraphic marker species whose ranges have been previously documented is used to calibrate the fraction of occurrences to mark as outliers. These outlier occurrences are compiled for samples, and profiles of outlier frequency are made from the sections used to compile the data; the profiles can then identify samples and sections with problematic data caused, for example, by taxonomic errors, incorrect age models, or reworking of sediment. These samples/sections can then be targeted for re-study.
There is growing evidence that changes in deep-sea benthic ecosystems are modulated by climate changes, but most evidence to date comes from the North Atlantic Ocean. Here we analyze new ostracod and published foraminiferal records for the last 250,000 years on Shatsky Rise in the North Pacific Ocean. Using linear models, we evaluate statistically the ability of environmental drivers (temperature, productivity, and seasonality of productivity) to predict changes in faunal diversity, abundance, and composition. These microfossil data show glacial-interglacial shifts in overall abundances and species diversities that are low during glacial intervals and high during interglacials. These patterns replicate those previously documented in the North Atlantic Ocean, suggesting that the climatic forcing of the deep-sea ecosystem is widespread, and possibly global in nature. However, these results also reveal differences with prior studies that probably reflect the isolated nature of Shatsky Rise as a remote oceanic plateau. Ostracod assemblages on Shatsky Rise are highly endemic but of low diversity, consistent with the limited dispersal potential of these animals. Benthic foraminifera, by contrast, have much greater dispersal ability and their assemblages at Shatsky Rise show diversities typical for deep-sea faunas in other regions.
Statistical analyses also reveal ostracod-foraminferal differences in relationships between environmental drivers and biotic change. Rarefied diversity is best explained as a hump-shaped function of surface productivity in ostracods, but as having a weak and positive relationship with temperature in foraminifera. Abundance shows a positive relationship with both productivity and seasonality of productivity in foraminifera, and a hump-shaped relationship with productivity in ostracods. Finally, species composition in ostracods is influenced by both temperature and productivity, but only a temperature effect is evident in foraminifera. Though complex in detail, the global-scale link between deep-sea ecosystems and Quaternary climate changes underscores the importance of the interaction between the physical and biological components of paleoceanographical research for better understanding the history of the biosphere.