Macroevolutionary research has written a “history of the rise and fall of pterosaurs”

As the first vertebrate to evolve the ability to fly dynamically, the macroevolution of pterosaurs has been attracting much attention in the paleontological community. Recently, “Contemporary Biology” published online the results of a large-scale evolution of pterosaur diversity from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences (hereinafter referred to as the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology). This study discusses in detail the evolution of pterosaur diversity from origin to extinction and the potential influencing factors.

“Liaoning pterosaur flying into a flock of birds” drawn by Ren Minghui

To better understand the evolution of pterosaur diversity, the researchers collected and integrated a new pterosaur morphological matrix, appendicular bone measurements, and constructed the largest pterosaur supertree.

The results show that the evolutionary history of pterosaurs can be roughly divided into two stages: a flourishing period of up to 115 million years and a decline period of 65 million years, and the flourishing period basically corresponds to small body size and the decline period corresponds to large body size. The flourishing period is accompanied by the peak of multi-wave net seed rate, as well as high morphological diversity and morphological evolution rate. The decay period is accompanied by a negative net seed rate, a continuous decrease in morphological diversity and a lower rate of morphological evolution.

The researchers explain that the macroevolution of pterosaurs was influenced by many factors, such as body size, the decorative structure of the head, and the exclusion of competition from birds for small pterosaurs.

The results also showed that the diversity of large terrestrial amniotic animals, including pterosaurs, such as non-avian dinosaurs, beaked dinosaurs, crocodiles, etc., declined in the middle of the Cretaceous. The number of habitats suitable for animals decreases exponentially with the size of the animal, so the impact of habitat loss on large animals is more significant. The researchers say that the loss of habitat population due to the decline in continental area in the mid-Cretaceous may be the main reason for the decline in the diversity of macroterrestrial amniotic animals.

The first author of the paper is Yu Yilun, a doctoral student at the Institute of Paleospine, and researchers Zhang Chi and Xu Xing serve as corresponding authors. (Source: Hu Minqi, China Science News)

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