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The extinction and survival of sharks across the end-Cretaceous mass extinction

By Mohamad Bazzi, Nicolás Campione, Per E Ahlberg, Henning Blom, Benjamin Philip Kear

Posted 20 Jan 2021
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.01.20.427414

Sharks (Selachimorpha) are iconic marine predators that have survived multiple mass extinctions over geologic time. Their fossil record is represented by an abundance of teeth, which traditionally formed the basis for reconstructing large-scale diversity changes among different selachimorph clades. By contrast, corresponding patterns in shark ecology, as measured through morphological disparity, have received comparatively limited analytical attention. Here, we use a geometric morphometric approach to comprehensively examine the dental morphology of multiple shark lineages traversing the catastrophic end-Cretaceous mass extinction -- this event terminated the Mesozoic Era 66 million years ago. Our results show that selachimorphs maintained virtually static levels of dental disparity in most of their constituent clades during the Cretaceous/Paleogene transition. Nevertheless, selective extinctions did impact on apex predator lineages characterized by triangular blade-like teeth, and in particular, lamniforms including the dominant Cretaceous anacoracids. Other groups, such as, triakid carcharhiniforms, squalids, and hexanchids, were seemingly unaffected. Finally, while some lamniform lineages experienced morphological depletion, others underwent a post-extinction disparity increase, especially odontaspidids, which are typified by narrow-cusped teeth adapted for feeding on fishes. This disparity shift coincides with the early Paleogene radiation of teleosts, a possible prey source, as well as the geographic relocation of shark disparity hotspots, perhaps indicating a regionally disjunct pattern of extinction recovery. Ultimately, our study reveals a complex morphological response to the end-Cretaceous mass extinction event, the dynamics of which we are only just beginning to understand.

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