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PLoS One. 2011;6(12):e28442. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0028442. Epub 2011 Dec 14.

Reproductive biology and its impact on body size: comparative analysis of mammalian, avian and dinosaurian reproduction.

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Department of Ecology, Zoological Institute, University of Mainz, Mainz, Germany.


Janis and Carrano (1992) suggested that large dinosaurs might have faced a lower risk of extinction under ecological changes than similar-sized mammals because large dinosaurs had a higher potential reproductive output than similar-sized mammals (JC hypothesis). First, we tested the assumption underlying the JC hypothesis. We therefore analysed the potential reproductive output (reflected in clutch/litter size and annual offspring number) of extant terrestrial mammals and birds (as "dinosaur analogs") and of extinct dinosaurs. With the exception of rodents, the differences in the reproductive output of similar-sized birds and mammals proposed by Janis and Carrano (1992) existed even at the level of single orders. Fossil dinosaur clutches were larger than litters of similar-sized mammals, and dinosaur clutch sizes were comparable to those of similar-sized birds. Because the extinction risk of extant species often correlates with a low reproductive output, the latter difference suggests a lower risk of population extinction in dinosaurs than in mammals. Second, we present a very simple, mathematical model that demonstrates the advantage of a high reproductive output underlying the JC hypothesis. It predicts that a species with a high reproductive output that usually faces very high juvenile mortalities will benefit more strongly in terms of population size from reduced juvenile mortalities (e.g., resulting from a stochastic reduction in population size) than a species with a low reproductive output that usually comprises low juvenile mortalities. Based on our results, we suggest that reproductive strategy could have contributed to the evolution of the exceptional gigantism seen in dinosaurs that does not exist in extant terrestrial mammals. Large dinosaurs, e.g., the sauropods, may have easily sustained populations of very large-bodied species over evolutionary time.

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