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Science. 2015 Nov 13;350(6262):812-5. doi: 10.1126/science.aac7373.

Body-size reduction in vertebrates following the end-Devonian mass extinction.

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Department of Earth and Environmental Science, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.
Department of Biology, Kalamazoo College, Kalamazoo, MI 49006, USA.


Following the end-Devonian mass extinction (359 million years ago), vertebrates experienced persistent reductions in body size for at least 36 million years. Global shrinkage was not related to oxygen or temperature, which suggests that ecological drivers played a key role in determining the length and direction of size trends. Small, fast-breeding ray-finned fishes, sharks, and tetrapods, most under 1 meter in length from snout to tail, radiated to dominate postextinction ecosystems and vertebrae biodiversity. The few large-bodied, slow-breeding survivors failed to diversify, facing extinction despite earlier evolutionary success. Thus, the recovery interval resembled modern ecological successions in terms of active selection on size and related life histories. Disruption of global vertebrate, and particularly fish, biotas may commonly lead to widespread, long-term reduction in body size, structuring future biodiversity.

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