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PLoS One. 2012;7(2):e31294. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0031294. Epub 2012 Feb 3.

Iterative evolution of sympatric seacow (Dugongidae, Sirenia) assemblages during the past ~26 million years.

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  • 1Laboratory of Evolutionary Biology, Department of Anatomy, Howard University, Washington, D.C., United States of America. velezjuarbe@gmail.com

Abstract

Extant sirenians show allopatric distributions throughout most of their range. However, their fossil record shows evidence of multispecies communities throughout most of the past ∼26 million years, in different oceanic basins. Morphological differences among co-occurring sirenian taxa suggest that resource partitioning played a role in structuring these communities. We examined body size and ecomorphological differences (e.g., rostral deflection and tusk morphology) among sirenian assemblages from the late Oligocene of Florida, early Miocene of India and early Pliocene of Mexico; each with three species of the family Dugongidae. Although overlapping in several ecomorphological traits, each assemblage showed at least one dominant trait in which coexisting species differed. Fossil sirenian occurrences occasionally are monotypic, but the assemblages analyzed herein show iterative evolution of multispecies communities, a phenomenon unparalleled in extant sirenian ecology. As primary consumers of seagrasses, these communities likely had a strong impact on past seagrass ecology and diversity, although the sparse fossil record of seagrasses limits direct comparisons. Nonetheless, our results provide robust support for previous suggestions that some sirenians in these extinct assemblages served as keystone species, controlling the dominance of climax seagrass species, permitting more taxonomically diverse seagrass beds (and sirenian communities) than many of those observed today.

PMID:
22319622
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PMCID:
PMC3272043
Free PMC Article
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