Mesozoic crurotarsans exhibited diverse morphologies and feeding modes, representing considerable ecological diversity, yet macroevolutionary patterns remain unexplored. Here, we use a unique combination of morphological and biomechanical disparity metrics to quantify the ecological diversity and trophic radiations of Mesozoic crurotarsans, using the mandible as a morpho-functional proxy. We recover three major trends. First, the diverse assemblage of Late Triassic crurotarsans was morphologically and biomechanically disparate, implying high levels of ecological variation; but, following the end-Triassic extinction, disparity declined. Second, the Jurassic radiation of marine thalattosuchians resulted in very low morphological disparity but moderate variation in jaw biomechanics, highlighting a hydrodynamic constraint on mandibular form. Third, during the Cretaceous terrestrial radiations of neosuchians and notosuchians, mandibular morphological variation increased considerably. By the Late Cretaceous, crocodylomorphs evolved a range of morphologies equalling Late Triassic crurotarsans. By contrast, biomechanical disparity in the Cretaceous did not increase, essentially decoupling from morphology. This enigmatic result could be attributed to biomechanical evolution in other anatomical regions (e.g. cranium, dentition or postcranium), possibly releasing the mandible from selective pressures. Overall, our analyses reveal a complex relationship between morphological and biomechanical disparity in Mesozoic crurotarsans that culminated in specialized feeding ecologies and associated lifestyles.
- Received July 24, 2013.
- Accepted August 13, 2013.
© 2013 The Authors. Published by the Royal Society under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/, which permits unrestricted use, provided the original author and source are credited.