Monday, 25 August 2014

Early Jurassic Basal Mammals Were Specialized Eaters

August 25, 2014

John Hopton for – Your Universe Online

Researchers from several British universities have found that small Jurassic mammals chose very specific diets from among the smorgasbord of insects available to them, with creatures of a similar type having distinct food choices.

Using a combination of technologies and comparisons with living animals, the researchers were able to study patterns of wear and tear on the mammals’ teeth in fossils. The observations showed that some “shrew-sized” mammals from the early Jurassic period ate harder insects such as beetles, while others consumed softer ones like scorpion flies.

The study of the creatures, which had lived in the South Wales area of the UK around 200 million years ago and had previously been thought to be “generalized insectivores,” assists in our broader understanding of evolutionary processes at a time when new characteristics were developing in mammals, such as better hearing and teeth capable of precise chewing.

The researchers from the universities of Bristol, Leicester and Southampton studied jaw mechanics and fossil teeth in two mammals, Morganucodon and Kuehneotherium, and reported in the journal Nature that they had developed specialized diets. They said that the mammals had different techniques for catching prey as well as for chewing it.

Specialist procedures were required in order to conduct the study, and according to Dr. Pamela Gill from Bristol, “None of the fossils of the earliest mammals have the sort of exceptional preservation that includes stomach contents to infer diet, so instead we used a range of new techniques which we applied to our fossil finds of broken jaws and isolated teeth. Our results confirm that the diversification of mammalian species at the time was linked with differences in diet and ecology.”

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