Ecological selectivity and the evolution of mammalian substrate preference across the K-Pg boundary.

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The Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) mass extinction 66 million years ago was characterized by a worldwide ecological catastrophe and rapid species turnover. Large-scale devastation of forested environments resulting from the Chicxulub asteroid impact likely influenced the evolutionary trajectories of multiple clades in terrestrial environments, and it has been hypothesized to have biased survivorship in favour of nonarboreal lineages across the K-Pg boundary. Here, we evaluate patterns of substrate preferences across the K-Pg boundary among crown group mammals, a group that underwent rapid diversification following the mass extinction. Using Bayesian, likelihood, and parsimony reconstructions, we identify patterns of mammalian ecological selectivity that are broadly similar to those previously hypothesized for birds. Models based on extant taxa indicate predominant K-Pg survivorship among semi- or nonarboreal taxa, followed by numerous independent transitions to arboreality in the early Cenozoic. However, contrary to the predominant signal, some or all members of total-clade Euarchonta (Primates + Dermoptera + Scandentia) appear to have maintained arboreal habits across the K-Pg boundary, suggesting ecological flexibility during an interval of global habitat instability. We further observe a pronounced shift in character state transitions away from plesiomorphic arboreality associated with the K-Pg transition. Our findings are consistent with the hypothesis that predominantly nonarboreal taxa preferentially survived the end-Cretaceous mass extinction, and emphasize the pivotal influence of the K-Pg transition in shaping the early evolutionary trajectories of extant terrestrial vertebrates.

ancestral state reconstruction, euarchontans, marsupials, paleoecology, placentals, substrate use
Journal Title
Ecol Evol
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MRC (MR/S032177)
Isaac Newton Trust (13.21(c)/18.47(a))
UK Research and Innovation (MR/S032177/1)