Early high rates and disparity in the evolution of ichthyosaurs.Commun Biol. 2020 02 13; 3(1):68.CB
How clades diversify early in their history is integral to understanding the origins of biodiversity and ecosystem recovery following mass extinctions. Moreover, diversification can represent evolutionary opportunities and pressures following ecosystem changes. Ichthyosaurs, Mesozoic marine reptiles, appeared after the end-Permian mass extinction and provide opportunities to assess clade diversification in a changed world. Using recent cladistic data, skull length data, and the most complete phylogenetic trees to date for the group, we present a combined disparity, morphospace, and evolutionary rates analysis that reveals the tempo and mode of ichthyosaur morphological evolution through 160 million years. Ichthyosaur evolution shows an archetypal early burst trend, driven by ecological opportunity in Triassic seas, and an evolutionary bottleneck leading to a long-term reduction in evolutionary rates and disparity. This is represented consistently across all analytical methods by a Triassic peak in ichthyosaur disparity and evolutionary rates, and morphospace separation between Triassic and post-Triassic taxa.