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100 million years of shark macroevolution : A morphometric dive into tooth shape diversity

  • Bazzi, Mohamad
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2021
DiVA - Academic Archive On-line
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Few vertebrate clades exhibit the evolutionary longevity and versatility of sharks, which constitute nearly half of all current chondrichthyan biodiversity and represent an ecological diversity of mid-to-apex trophic-level predators in both marine and freshwater environments. The rich fossil record of shark teeth from Mesozoic and Cenozoic rocks also makes the group amenable to large-scale quantitative analyses. This thesis reconstructs the morphological tooth disparity of dominant lamniform (Mackerel sharks) and carcharhiniform (Ground sharks) clades over the last 100 million years. The relative diversity of these major lineages is strongly skewed, with lamniforms, including the famous White shark, making up less than 3% of the total species richness, whereas carcharhiniforms, such as Tiger sharks, comprise over 290 described species. Paradoxically, this long-recognized disproportionate representation was reversed in the distant geological past. Indeed, the fossil record shows that lamniforms accounted for nearly all of the documented shark diversity during the final stages of the Late Cretaceous — the terminal time interval of the ‘Age of Dinosaurs’, which ended 66 million years ago. The causes of this radical diversity turnover are debated, with recent research suggesting that competition and/or climate change drove major shifts in shark evolution. Perhaps more surprisingly, most analyses of diversity dynamics of sharks centre largely on taxonomic data, thus omitting more direct proxies of ecology, such as morphological diversity, or disparity. To mitigate this shortfall, I adopt a Procrustes framework combined with phylogenetic comparative and multivariate statistics to shed light on the deep-time morphological evolution of sharks. My work indicates that the end-Cretaceous mass extinction initiated a sustained evolutionary turnover in ecological dominance between lamniforms and carcharhiniforms. More specifically, the morphospace of these clades, indicate a selective extinction at the K/Pg Boundary affecting ‘large-bodied’ anacoracid lamniform sharks, whereas triakid carcharhiniforms proliferated in the extinction aftermath, perhaps as a response to new prey sources. Overall, my thesis suggests that the modern shark assemblages are the synergistic result of feeding ecology (including dietary niche breadth) and environmental shifts in global sea levels and temperature acting over the last 100 million years.

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