Two pulses of morphological diversification in Pacific pelagic fishes following the Cretaceous-Palaeogene mass extinction.Proc Biol Sci. 2018 10 10; 285(1888)PB
Molecular phylogenies suggest some major radiations of open-ocean fish clades occurred roughly coincident with the Cretaceous-Palaeogene (K/Pg) boundary, however the timing and nature of this diversification is poorly constrained. Here, we investigate evolutionary patterns in ray-finned fishes across the K/Pg mass extinction 66 million years ago (Ma), using microfossils (isolated teeth) preserved in a South Pacific sediment core spanning 72-43 Ma. Our record does not show significant turnover of fish tooth morphotypes at the K/Pg boundary: only two of 48 Cretaceous tooth morphotypes disappear at the event in the South Pacific, a rate no different from background extinction. Capture-mark-recapture analysis finds two pulses of origination in fish tooth morphotypes following the mass extinction. The first pulse, at approximately 64 Ma, included short-lived teeth, as well as forms that contribute to an expansion into novel morphospace. A second pulse, centred at approximately 58 Ma, produced morphotype novelty in a different region of morphospace from the first pulse, and contributed significantly to Eocene tooth morphospace occupation. There was no significant increase in origination rates or expansion into novel morphospace during the early or middle Eocene, despite a near 10-fold increase in tooth abundance during that interval. Our results suggest that while the K/Pg event had a minor impact on fish diversity in terms of extinction, the removal of the few dominant Cretaceous morphotypes triggered a sequence of origination events allowing fishes to rapidly diversify morphologically, setting the stage for exceptional levels of ray-finned fish diversity in the Cenozoic.