Sunday, 12 March 2017

New insights into the mechanisms into how ungulates got bigger in the Neogene




Date: February 27, 2017
Source: Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum

The observed increase of body size in ungulates during the 20 million years before the Pleistocene is driven by the process of species selection, according to researchers. Bigger ungulate species became more common because of a higher origination and lower extinction rate. The study is the first to compare the evolution of two mammalian clades during the Neogene on two continents. The researchers point out that this biogeographic perspective yields complex explanations for apparently shared patterns. 

The observed increase of body size in ungulates during the 20 million years before the Pleistocene is driven by the process of species selection, according to researchers from the Senckenberg, Germany. Bigger ungulate species became more common because of a higher origination and lower extinction rate. The study, published recently in Proceedings of Royal Society B, is the first to compare the evolution of two mammalian clades during the Neogene on two continents. The researchers point out that this biogeographic perspective yields complex explanations for apparently shared patterns.

What does the future hold for mammals? In the past, bigger was indeed better as several studies have shown an increasing trend of body size in mammals (including ungulates) until the great extinction events during the ice ages; coinciding with a cooling climate. Today it seems populations of larger-bodied species are threatened to a greater degree. Some researchers even consider dwarfing as a possible consequence of the ongoing temperature rise. Insights into the patters of body size evolution might help to predict the changes that lie ahead for mammals.

In order to understand how body size evolves in mammals, Dr. Shan Huang, Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre, and her colleagues analyzed a fossil data set of large herbivores (ungulates: orders Artiodactyla und Perissodactyla). The fossil remains, which include around 500 species of animals such as giraffes and hippos as well as rhinoceros and chalicotheres, cover the period between 23 to two million years ago. This is the first time the evolutionary patterns of body size in ungulates during this period were analyzed and compared between Europe and North America.

Whereas studies on body size had primarily investigated trends of mean body size increase, Huang highlighted changes in the minimum body size. "Overall, we saw a significant increase in minimum (and maximum) body size during this time. This indicates active evolution, meaning that the animals did not evolve to bigger sizes in the course of time by chance. On the contrary, bigger species had an evolutionary advantage when competing for natural resources. This is what we call species selection," says Huang.

No comments:

Post a comment

You only need to enter your comment once! Comments will appear once they have been moderated. This is so as to stop the would-be comedian who has been spamming the comments here with inane and often offensive remarks. You know who you are!

Related Posts with Thumbnails

ShareThis