Near-Stasis in the Long-Term Diversification of Mesozoic Tetrapods

PLoS Biology
Roger B J BensonGraeme T Lloyd


How did evolution generate the extraordinary diversity of vertebrates on land? Zero species are known prior to ~380 million years ago, and more than 30,000 are present today. An expansionist model suggests this was achieved by large and unbounded increases, leading to substantially greater diversity in the present than at any time in the geological past. This model contrasts starkly with empirical support for constrained diversification in marine animals, suggesting different macroevolutionary processes on land and in the sea. We quantify patterns of vertebrate standing diversity on land during the Mesozoic-early Paleogene interval, applying sample-standardization to a global fossil dataset containing 27,260 occurrences of 4,898 non-marine tetrapod species. Our results show a highly stable pattern of Mesozoic tetrapod diversity at regional and local levels, underpinned by a weakly positive, but near-zero, long-term net diversification rate over 190 million years. Species diversity of non-flying terrestrial tetrapods less than doubled over this interval, despite the origins of exceptionally diverse extant groups within mammals, squamates, amphibians, and dinosaurs. Therefore, although speciose groups of modern tetrapods have Mes...Continue Reading

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