Global ecomorphological restructuring of dominant marine reptiles prior to the Cretaceous-Palaeogene mass extinction.Proc Biol Sci. 2022 05 25; 289(1975):20220585.PB
Mosasaurid squamates were the dominant amniote predators in marine ecosystems during most of the Late Cretaceous. Here, we use a suite of biomechanically rooted, functionally descriptive ratios in a framework adapted from population ecology to investigate how the morphofunctional disparity of mosasaurids evolved prior to the Cretaceous-Palaeogene (K/Pg) mass extinction. Our results suggest that taxonomic turnover in mosasaurid community composition from Campanian to Maastrichtian is reflected by a notable global increase in morphofunctional disparity, especially driving the North American record. Ecomorphospace occupation becomes polarized during the Late Maastrichtian, with morphofunctional disparity plateauing in the Southern Hemisphere and decreasing in the Northern Hemisphere. We show that these changes are not strongly associated with mosasaurid size, but rather with the functional capacities of their skulls. Our novel approach indicates that mosasaurid morphofunctional disparity was in decline in multiple provincial communities before the K/Pg mass extinction, highlighting region-specific patterns of disparity evolution and the importance of assessing vertebrate extinctions both globally and locally. Ecomorphological differentiation in mosasaurid communities, coupled with declines in other formerly abundant marine reptile groups, indicates widespread restructuring of higher trophic levels in marine food webs was well underway when the K/Pg mass extinction took place.