Body size reductions in nonmammalian eutheriodont therapsids (Synapsida) during the end-Permian mass extinction.PLoS One. 2014; 9(2):e87553.Plos
The extent to which mass extinctions influence body size evolution in major tetrapod clades is inadequately understood. For example, the 'Lilliput effect,' a common feature of mass extinctions, describes a temporary decrease in body sizes of survivor taxa in post-extinction faunas. However, its signature on existing patterns of body size evolution in tetrapods and the persistence of its impacts during post-extinction recoveries are virtually unknown, and rarely compared in both geologic and phylogenetic contexts. Here, I evaluate temporal and phylogenetic distributions of body size in Permo-Triassic therocephalian and cynodont therapsids (eutheriodonts) using a museum collections-based approach and time series model fitting on a regional stratigraphic sequence from the Karoo Basin, South Africa. I further employed rank order correlation tests on global age and clade rank data from an expanded phylogenetic dataset, and performed evolutionary model testing using Brownian (passive diffusion) models. Results support significant size reductions in the immediate aftermath of the end-Permian mass extinction (ca. 252.3 Ma) consistent with some definitions of Lilliput effects. However, this temporal succession reflects a pattern that was underscored largely by Brownian processes and constructive selectivity. Results also support two recent contentions about body size evolution and mass extinctions: 1) active, directional evolution in size traits is rare over macroevolutionary time scales and 2) geologically brief size reductions may be accomplished by the ecological removal of large-bodied species without rapid originations of new small-bodied clades or shifts from long-term evolutionary patterns.