Turtles (Testudinata) are a diverse group of amniotes that have a rich fossil record that extends back to the Late Triassic, but little is known about global patterns of disparity through time. We here investigate the cranial disparity of 172 representatives of the turtle lineage and their ancestors grouped into 20 time bins ranging from the Late Triassic until the Recent using two-dimensional geometric morphometrics. Three evolutionary phases are apparent in all three anatomical views investigated. In the first phase, disparity increases gradually from the Late Triassic to the Palaeogene with only a minor perturbation at the K/T extinct event. Although global warming may have influenced this increase, we find the Mesozoic fragmentation of Pangaea to be a more plausible factor. Following its maximum, disparity decreases strongly towards the Miocene, only to recover partially towards the Recent. The marked collapse in disparity is likely a result of habitat destruction caused by global drying, combined with the homogenization of global turtle faunas that resulted from increased transcontinental dispersal in the Tertiary. The disparity minimum in the Miocene is likely an artefact of poor sampling.
Electronic supplementary material is available online at https://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.3575753.
- Received August 26, 2016.
- Accepted October 31, 2016.
- © 2016 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.