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Biol Lett. 2015 Jul;11(7). pii: 20150339. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2015.0339.

The evolution and extinction of the ichthyosaurs from the perspective of quantitative ecospace modelling.


The role of niche specialization and narrowing in the evolution and extinction of the ichthyosaurs has been widely discussed in the literature. However, previous studies have concentrated on a qualitative discussion of these variables only. Here, we use the recently developed approach of quantitative ecospace modelling to provide a high-resolution quantitative examination of the changes in dietary and ecological niche experienced by the ichthyosaurs throughout their evolution in the Mesozoic. In particular, we demonstrate that despite recent discoveries increasing our understanding of taxonomic diversity among the ichthyosaurs in the Cretaceous, when viewed from the perspective of ecospace modelling, a clear trend of ecological contraction is visible as early as the Middle Jurassic. We suggest that this ecospace redundancy, if carried through to the Late Cretaceous, could have contributed to the extinction of the ichthyosaurs. Additionally, our results suggest a novel model to explain ecospace change, termed the 'migration model'.

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