Ecological impact of the end-Cretaceous extinction on lamniform sharks.PLoS One. 2017; 12(6):e0178294.Plos
Lamniform sharks are apex marine predators undergoing dramatic local and regional decline worldwide, with consequences for marine ecosystems that are difficult to predict. Through their long history, lamniform sharks have faced widespread extinction, and understanding those 'natural experiments' may help constrain predictions, placing the current crisis in evolutionary context. Here we show, using novel morphometric analyses of fossil shark teeth, that the end-Cretaceous extinction of many sharks had major ecological consequences. Post-extinction ecosystems supported lower diversity and disparity of lamniforms, and were dominated by significantly smaller sharks with slimmer, smoother and less robust teeth. Tooth shape is intimately associated with ecology, feeding and prey type, and by integrating data from extant sharks we show that latest Cretaceous sharks occupied similar niches to modern lamniforms, implying similar ecosystem structure and function. By comparison, species in the depauperate post-extinction community occupied niches most similar to those of juvenile sand tigers (Carcharias taurus). Our data show that quantitative tooth morphometrics can distinguish lamniform sharks due to dietary differences, providing critical insights into ecological consequences of past extinction episodes.