Ancient Mammal Relatives Cast Light On Recovery After Mass Extinction

Reconstruction of the Permian anomodont Dicynodon lacerticeps.

Much work so far suggests that the survivors of mass extinctions often are presented with new ecological opportunities because the loss of many species in their communities allows them to evolve new lifestyles and new anatomical features as they fill the roles vacated by the victims.

However, it turns out that not all survivors respond in the same way, and some may not be able to exploit fully the new opportunities arising after a mass extinction. A team of researchers from the University of Lincoln, the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin, and the University of Bristol examined how a group of ancient relatives of mammals called anomodonts responded in the aftermath of the largest mass extinction in Earth history. Their work, published this week in Proceedings of the Royal Society B and titled “Decoupling of morphological disparity and taxic diversity during the adaptive radiation of anomodont therapsids,” shows that anomodonts remained anatomically conservative even as the number of species rebounded during the recovery.

The mass extinction at the end of the Permian Period, about 252 million years ago, had profound effects on organisms on land and in the sea, with as many as 90% of marine organisms and 70% of terrestrial species becoming extinct. “Groups of organisms that survive such a mass extinction are said to have passed through an evolutionary bottleneck analogous to the genetic bottleneck that may occur in a population if many of its members die off,” said Dr. Marcello Ruta of the University of Lincoln, the lead author of the study. “At the population level, a genetic bottleneck sometimes allows the population to move to a new evolutionary trajectory, but other times it constrains the future evolution of the population.”

Read the full story here.

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About jensera

Jennifer Harrington is a Toronto-based illustrator, writer and graphic designer. She illustrated the best-selling children’s book series 'A Moose in a Maple Tree,' which includes the titles 'A Moose in a Maple Tree,' 'The Night Before a Canadian Christmas' and 'Canadian Jingle Bells.' She is also the owner of JSH Graphics, a boutique graphic design agency that specializes in print and web advertising. With her latest project, Eco Books 4 Kids, Jennifer has partnered with illustrator Michael Arnott to create a series of ecologically-themed ebooks for children. Her next book, 'Spirit Bear,' is due for release in the Summer of 2013. Jennifer offers two different school presentations for her 'Moose in a Maple Tree' collection, an illustration demonstration and a Christmas concert series, which can be booked at www.amooseinamapletree.com. She will be taking bookings for school readings of 'Spirit Bear' beginning in October 2013.

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