Abstract

The Cretaceous/Tertiary (K/Pg) mass extinction has long been viewed as a pivotal event in mammalian evolutionary history, in which the extinction of non-avian dinosaurs allowed mammals to rapidly expand from small-bodied, generalized insectivores to a wide array of body sizes and ecological specializations. Many studies have used global- or continental-scale taxonomic databases to analyze this event on coarse temporal scales, but few studies have documented morphological diversity of mammalian paleocommunities on fine spatiotemporal scales in order to examine ecomorphological selectivity and ecospace filling across this critical transition. Focusing on well-sampled and temporally well-constrained mammalian faunas across the K/Pg boundary in northeastern Montana, I quantified dental-shape disparity and morphospace occupancy via landmark- and semilandmark-based geometric morphometrics and mean body size, body-size disparity, and body-size structure via body-mass estimates.

My results reveal several key findings: (1) latest Cretaceous mammals, particularly metatherians and multituberculates, had a greater ecomorphological diversity than is generally appreciated, occupying regions of the morphospace that are interpreted as strict carnivory, plant-dominated omnivory, and herbivory; (2) the decline in dental-shape disparity and body-size disparity across the K/Pg boundary shows a pattern of constructive extinction selectivity against larger-bodied dietary specialists, particularly strict carnivores and taxa with plant-based diets, that suggests the kill mechanism was related to depressed primary productivity rather than a globally instantaneous event; (3) the ecomorphological recovery in the earliest Paleocene was fueled by immigrants, namely three multituberculate families (taeniolabidids, microcosmodontids, eucosmodontids) and to a lesser extent archaic ungulates; and (4) despite immediate increases in the taxonomic richness of eutherians, their much-celebrated post-K/Pg ecomorphological expansion had a slower start than is generally perceived and most likely only began 400,000 to 1 million years after the extinction event.

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